First permits for cottage housing trigger concern

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home and landowners in the All Seasons subdivision say the city's first cottage housing development threatens their property values and doesn't fit in with the Back Loop Road neighborhood people paid up to $500,000 to live in.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

If allowed, Bicknell Inc. will build 22 cottage homes next to All Season's more traditional cul-de-sac neighborhood in the Mendenhall Valley. The Heritage Hills subdivision has been described as "craftsman quality" homes of less than 1,200 square feet. They are expected to sell for around $300,000.

One of the neighbors' concerns is the number of cottage homes that are proposed and that they exceed the city requirement of building just 12 cottage homes per project.

"If I had to live with 12 (homes) I could," nearby homeowner Carroll Austin said. "It's easier than 22."

She and nine others hired an attorney to present their collective concerns to the city.

Intended to spur more affordable housing, city law allows tightly clustered compact homes to be built on small lots. To meet city restrictions of 12 homes per cottage development, Bicknell presented Heritage Hills as three separate but adjoining developments, each on 1.5 acres or less and connected by a single winding road.

The city says Bicknell's housing plan is legal. City planner Greg Cheney said he plans to recommend the Juneau Planning Commission rule that Heritage Hills is indeed three developments and approve permits during the commission's regular meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in Assembly Chambers.

While neighbors question whether the number of homes in the Bicknell project is legal, Cheney said even if Heritage was a standard subdivision, the D-3 zoning that exists in that area allows up to 11 houses each with an "accessory apartment" and would result in 22 dwellings in the same space with the same potential for density increase.

The Subdivision Review Committee feels justified to look at it as three developments, Cheney said.

Assistant City Attorney Jane Sebens reviewed city law and the Bicknell proposal at the request of the Planning Commission. In a Feb. 7 memo she told Cheney that the city ordinance does not "specifically" define a cottage development or forbid cottage development on adjacent lots.

"It appears from the text and the history of the ordinance that the term was intended to denote a cluster of units on a single lot situated around a common green area," Sebens said.

Bicknell's three-phase plan has three groups of homes built around three green areas, Cheney said.

Planning Commission Vice Clerk Michael Satre said as a member of the quasi-judicial body he is unable to discuss opinions or possible actions before ruling on any matter.

"It's a big issue. I don't feel comfortable commenting at this time," he said.

Bicknell's owners were traveling and unavailable for comment.

Another major planning consideration is Heritage Hills' possible effect on home values next door at All Seasons. Several Back Loop homeowners shared concerns with the commission that property values would dip because of lost views and high density.

"I don't feel it's fair to the owners that have purchased lots and have built $400,000 to $500,000 homes in the adjacent subdivision to butt up against a development of that density," Back Loop Road resident Bob Janes said.

Several All Seasons homeowners face the prospect of a dirt-berm barrier and cottages replacing dense trees and a mountain view.

Land-use codes allow the commission to deny a permit if a development might "substantially decrease" surrounding home values.

But according to Cheney, neighboring development almost always affects existing homes. The same thing occurred when trees were cleared to build All Seasons. Construction is noisy, disruptive and scary for those living in existing homes because they don't know what is going to happen in the end, Cheney said.

City Assessor Robin Potter said that All Seasons homeowners face the possibility of "unfavorable impacts" but the loss would not be "substantial" and therefore Bicknell should be allowed to proceed.

"If the property values reduced significantly I would recommend denial of the project," Cheney said.

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