Cemeteries: residential or commercial?

Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How should a cemetery be zoned?

Evergreen cemetery is zoned "residential," and members of the community are glad to keep it that way. A recent proposal that would have changed part of the cemetery's zoning to "commercial" drew ire from residents. The change was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and introduced at an Assembly meeting, but in the end the city revised its proposal.

Originally the cemetery was included in the rezoning request for the office building owned by Voelckers-Wyatt Properties at 1420 Glacier Avenue so as to connect with another commercial zone, since that property was less than the minimum size to exist in isolation. Community Development Director Dale Pernula said last week, however, that after protest from community members, the cemetery has been removed from the rezoning request.

Complicating the matter is that at least part of that area does not seem to be owned by the city.

Sealaska Corp. Assistant Lands Manager Michelle Metz, who read a letter against the rezoning of the cemetery at the Jan. 12 meeting, said Sealaska was against the rezoning whether or not it involved Native graves. The issue, she said, was graves in general.

Planning and Zoning Commission members were not insensitive to the idea of protecting the graves and discussed the possibility of specialized zoning for cemeteries at the meeting.

Paul Voelckers, who owns the adjacent building and made the request to accommodate Higher Grounds, the high-end snowboard, bike, and possibly coffee shop planned for the space by its lessees, Jamie and Andy Troxel, emphasized he wasn't interested in having the status of the cemetery changed.

He made the commercial zoning change request for his company's property as a way to have more options for the building.

"Because of the comprehensive plan we were invited to be a co-applicant with the city," he said. "It was seen as advantageous to the area - it seemed like an easy and straightforward thing to do."

The comprehensive plan encourages mixed-use development for commercial, offices and residences along transit corridors like Glacier Avenue. The office at that address up to this point was zoned as a non-conforming use.

Glacier Avenue Condominiums Homeowners Association President Kathy Ellis, who lives in a building included in the request, said she's concerned about the character of the neighborhood. Though 1420 Glacier Avenue has been a professional office building for years, if the building is zoned as "commercial," it would open up to many more possible uses.

Nine of the 12 total building residents, all present at a recent meeting, voted to oppose the rezoning, though not all opposed it in comments at the January meeting.

Voelckers said he can understand neighbors concerns.

"I think we've been real good neighbors so far, and we intend to continue," he said. "Our interest is in having a nice, attractive property, and so far I think that's what we have done."

The Assembly will consider the revised request at its meeting Monday.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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