Land swap shrinks

Public outcry spurs city to scale back trade of property in Douglas

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Uproars work.

One was staged at a Douglas meeting last week by locals incensed with the city's plan to trade away the old Douglas township's wild uplands for an armory site across Gastineau Channel.

City leaders backed off with the bureaucrat's equivalent of, ``Never mind.''

``That was absolutely because of the uproar by the people of Douglas,'' said Doug Mertz, an attorney and now vice president of the newly formed Douglas Neighborhood Association - born Monday in reaction to the land swap threat.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust originally had traded 50 acres of its property at 7-mile Glacier Highway for 134 city acres above Douglas.

The new quid pro quo is 20 trust-owned acres for 46 city-owned acres.

The city had already taken over its 50 acres of trust and, in effect, owed the trust $900,000 or land of equal value.

Five days after the Douglas showdown, the city manager submitted a new proposal to the Juneau Assembly. The plan, as outlined in a Lands Department memorandum, would reconvey 30 acres of the 7-mile property to the trust.

That parcel is valued at $612,000. The balance owed the trust - $288,000 - would be made up by conveying an approximately 46-acre portion of the 134-acre Douglas parcel to the trust. The rest of the parcel would remain in the pool of city lands slated for disposal at a future time.

``We met with the trust after that (Douglas) meeting,'' said Steve Gilbertson, the city's lands manager. ``The trust wants to be a good neighbor. We had a collaborative brainstorm and came up with this.''

The city had initiated the swap in order to provide the National Guard a 10-acre site for its new armory. The prospect of rising rent on trust-owned land had forced the guard's move from its downtown location.

``The 46 acres is not located next to the existing (Douglas) town site, but is behind Crow Hill Drive,'' Gilbertson said. ``The original parcel involved four development pockets and this brings it down to one - and that's significantly less.''

People living below the original parcel had complained to Gilbertson and trust spokesman Steve Planchon at the meeting that their concerns about development had not been met. These included existing and future drainage problems, local traffic problems and existing congestion at the Douglas Bridge, the prospect of high-density development, and dissatisfaction with the public review process.

Of the 20 acres at 7 mile Glacier Highway, 10 have already been allotted to the National Guard and the remaining 10 - behind the Department of Transportation facility and contiguous with other city land - will remain in city hands. That piece is ``steep and of not much value,'' Gilbertson said.

The swap proposal has been referred to the city Lands Committee meeting of Feb. 1. Pending that committee's recommendation, a revised ordinance could be introduced to the assembly at its Feb. 21 meeting.

``We'll be looking at the revised plan and will be a sounding board for the whole range of concerns,'' Mertz said.

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