Waterfront condo concept under fire

Four-story tidelands project would be twice as tall as nearby state building

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2004

A proposed 49-foot-tall condominium building, twice as tall as a nearby state building, is opposed by people who say it will interfere with the city's long-range waterfront plan and obstruct views of Gastineau Channel.

Jan Van Dort, a co-owner of Aniakchak Inc. of Juneau, is proposing to build the four-story building over tidelands south of the state Department of Fish and Game building on Eighth Street. The first floor would be for parking and the other three for living.

The land is owned by Kijulik Corp. Profit Sharing Trust of Juneau, for which Van Dort is the attorney. Van Dort and Bill Heumann, the other owner of Aniakchak, are buying the property from the trust.

"The Planning Commission has the opportunity to support the long-range waterfront plan and that project is inconsistent with the waterfront plan," said Dixie Hood, a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, which opposes the project.

A public hearing scheduled for Tuesday before the Juneau Planning Commission has been canceled. The delay is due to concerns by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on whether the building could withstand floods, waves and high wind, city planner Greg Chaney said.

If the commission approved the project as it stands, the city's flood insurance rates could go up, he said. The rates are based on a community's ability to administer FEMA's flood insurance program.

Van Dort needs to work out a proposal acceptable to FEMA before the project can move forward, Chaney said.

Van Dort originally proposed building the condos on pilings but told Chaney on Thursday he was considering using fill instead. That will become even more "controversial," Chaney said, because fill more directly impacts water habitat. Van Dort likely would have a more difficult time securing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits, Chaney said.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee drafted a letter to the Juneau Assembly on Thursday, saying it opposes any construction inconsistent with the waterfront plan. The committee also is calling for the reinstatement of the city's Design Review Board for the downtown core and the entire waterfront. That board was disbanded because of pressure from the construction community, Hood said.

Hood said the condominium building is inconsistent with the waterfront plan because the land is not being used for green space. The city should be allowed to purchase that property so it can be used for a park, she said.

Van Dort called the city waterfront plan "illusory." Drafting a plan is one thing, he said, but funding it is another.

The city has never approached Van Dort about buying the property - assessed at $41,700 - to be used as part of the waterfront plan, he said. He would be willing to negotiate a sale price if the city were interested, he said. But otherwise Van Dort said he doesn't want to sell.

Parkshore Homeowners Association issued a statement Wednesday that said Van Dort's proposed building would obstruct the views of some residents. Parkshore is across Egan Drive from the site of the proposed building. The association has not taken a formal position, but many of the 90 owners are opposed to the project and the granting of city code variances for it, association President Mike Blackwell said.

"It's highly presumptuous that I wouldn't use my property, to protect their (Parkshore's) view," Van Dort retorted.

He defended the project, saying it would provide high-income housing to Juneau in a scenic location. The condominiums would sell for $400,000 apiece.

He is seeking variances from the commission to:

• Build multi-family housing in an area zoned waterfront commercial.

• Exceed the city's building height limit of 35 feet.

• Build a habitable dwelling seaward of the average level of high tides throughout the year in Gastineau Channel.

If Van Dort fails to get the height variance, he will build outward instead of upward, he said. That would mean a wider obstruction for viewing the channel. It could result in him building 15 or 16 condos instead of 12, he said.

In exchange for building up instead of out, Van Dort is offering three property easements:

• No construction from the seaward end of the building to the end of the property line.

• Public access on the property for fishing and bird watching. No access is now allowed because it is private property.

• The city would be allowed to build a seawalk on the property. The seawalk is a component of the waterfront plan.

"I don't know how Bill (Heumann) or I could give any more than we've given," Van Dort said.

Van Dort would begin construction this spring pending commission approval. If the commission fails to approve the project, Van Dort can appeal the decision to the Assembly. If denied approval, Van Dort said he has a plan that would not require a land-use permit. He declined to say what that alternative is.

If the commission approves the project, the public may file an appeal with the Assembly.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.

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