Go with better instead of bigger on downtown waterfront

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Proposed condominiums to be built over tidelands at the east end of the Douglas Bridge is one issue about which the city should have some real reservations.

First come reservations the Federal Emergency Management Agency has about the building's ability to withstand floods, waves and high winds. This, for a four-story complex that would house 12 high-end condos and would exceed by 14 feet the city's current building height limit of 35 feet.

The building has been proposed by Jan Van Dort, co-owner of Aniakchak Inc. of Juneau, on land that is owned by Kijulik Corp. Profit Sharing Trust, also of Juneau and for which Van Dort is the attorney. Van Dort and his partner, Bill Huemann, are buying the property from Kijulik Corp.

Second among concerns are the aesthetics of the project, which the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee says are inconsistent with the city's long-term waterfront development plan. That plan, ultimately, will not only help further the appearance of downtown's core but will, to a greater extent, help define the flavor and character of downtown Juneau as Alaska's capital city and one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

Van Dort is asking the Juneau Planning Commission for variances that he says will allow him to provide high-income housing in a scenic location. There is validity in the argument, however, that the property on which the condo complex would be built could be better utilized as public open space or for a much more aesthetically pleasing development.

If the city is going to consider variances for new development downtown, it should do so with an eye for that which is more compelling relative to use and appearance.

And, lastly, there are at least some environmental concerns the city must consider. If Van Dort decides to build his structure upward, using fill material, rather than outward by way of pilings, that could jeopardize his permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That's because fill material more directly affects water habitat.

The city's decision on this project is long-term, and it could well impact the quality - and perhaps the quantity - of other waterfront projects. Its decision should be weighted toward quality if downtown and the waterfront areas are to maintain their charm and attraction.

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