My Turn: Douglas proposal threat to neighborhoods

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2002

Last month the Planning Commission passed out draft ordinance No. 2001-58, which will affect the health and safety of each of us who drive back and forth to Douglas, walk or run the shoreline road, take the city bus or have children riding school buses from Douglas/West Juneau.

I'm speaking of the ordinance which would permit initial expansion of the Douglas Breeze In from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet, with up to 2,000 square feet allocated to the sale of liquor. The ordinance would also open the door to gas pumps, ATM machines and video rentals. In fact, landfill to increase the lot size has already begun.

On two previous occasions, Breeze In owners sought to adjust zoning laws to accommodate this ambitious expansion and twice were defeated owing to the traffic hazard and undesirable neighborhood impacts. I can't see where the situation has improved any. If anything, I believe it has worsened.

Anyone who drives that street on a regular basis knows how dangerously congested it is. I was rear-ended while executing a left hand turn into my own driveway. The other driver was exiting the Breeze In lot while watching traffic come off the bridge. He failed to notice that I had stopped in the street with my turn signal on, telegraphing my intention to turn. Most traffic simply passes on the right, which is actually another dangerous maneuver forced on drivers by congested traffic.

In addition to converging traffic from Juneau, North Douglas and the Douglas Highway, there is also a school bus stop, a city bus stop and the Cordova Street access to West Juneau to contend with. If we add to this dangerous mix, traffic from gas pumps, ATM and video rental, and increase traffic from an expanded liquor-convenience store, we have the makings of a real traffic disaster.

The Planning Commission concedes the proposed expansion is "incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood," a protection afforded in the current ordinance. However, it has evidently been persuaded by Breeze In developers that certain "amenities," (setbacks, parking, fences, plantings, etc.) represent fair compensation to neighbors for loss of their property value, quiet enjoyment, traffic safety, and an unwelcome increase in public inebriates, burglaries, and break-ins. I disagree. The "amenities" strategy diverts attention from the real issues - the deleterious effects on public safety, property value, and disharmony with the surrounding neighborhood. The negatives far outweigh any "amenity" so far proposed.

It seems to me these "amenities" should be standard features in any proposed development. I recall the huge controversy a few years back over installation of golden arches at the valley McDonald's property, a designated business area. The same consideration and concern should be extended to homeowners and neighborhoods. West Juneau waterfront and hillside homes are some of the most expensive in the Juneau area and pay some of the highest property taxes.

The only compelling "need" for this expansion, is that of Breeze In owners to maximize profits. I don't buy the argument that the area is underserved; convenience stores are already located in Douglas and on the Juneau side of the bridge. Additionally, the yellow pages list four liquor stores in the downtown area. Re-writing the CBJ ordinance seems an extreme step to take in order to support one business. Shouldn't the Assembly show the same concern and support for existing businesses already paying taxes into CBJ coffers? It's the existing business community that will likely show a reduction in profitability as a result of the Breeze In expansion.

It's not too late to stop this irresponsible zoning change. The proposed ordinance affects property owners and neighborhoods borough-wide. Critical decisions such as this one should be made in a comprehensive manner with input from the entire borough not piecemeal, in response to pressure from a single business.

This could well be "the camel's nose under the tent." Let's pay attention here, and support those Assembly members and city staff who follow responsible and rational public policy. Draft Ordinance 2001-58 will be considered by the Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 13 in the Assembly Chambers, 5-7 p.m.

Assembly member mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers are located on the web at http://www.juneau.lib.ak.us/assembly/assemb.htm

Let your Assembly members know that you care about public safety, neighborhood integrity and responsible planning.

Katherine Brown is a Douglas resident whose family has resided in the Juneau-Douglas area for five generations.



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