Residents drive debate on city off-road park

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

About 100 people showed up Tuesday night at Centennial Hall for a special meeting of the city Planning Commission hosted solely for public testimony on a proposed off-highway vehicle park in North Douglas.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

City planners said they would wait for more research on noise before making recommendations on the park. In the meantime, residents of the adjacent properties, who worry the park will be a noisy nuisance, are doing their own homework.

"This is absolutely not the place to put something like this," said Charlie Elliott, a real-estate appraiser from Greensboro, N.C., hired by North Douglas residents.

He told commissioners nearby property values could decline by up to 22 percent because of noise at the park.

Elliott also said he found that 100 neighbors in Ohio successfully sued to close a similar park there because it was noisy. The closest resident lived 1,000 feet away.

The city and Rough Riders AK Inc. applied together to develop the 26-acre park at the northern end of Douglas Island, three-quarters of a mile from the bottom of Fish Creek Road.

Recreational all-terrain vehicle riders are restricted to few legal areas in Juneau.

"I've watched our riding community get pushed further and further out the road," said Jim Bradley, an ATV rider who grew up in Juneau.

City staff and city Lands Manager Heather Marlow have said the park can be developed without negative effects.

Staff recommended the permit place the following conditions on the park: hours between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.; noise restrictions to 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels after 7 p.m.; a 350-foot buffer between nearby properties and the riding area; no drinking or gun use; helmets required; an annual user fee; and proper trash disposal.

City Assessor Robin Potter was quoted in a staff report saying that property values would not be negatively affected if noise levels don't exceed the noise owners already hear from the highway, if traffic doesn't substantially increase and they can't see the park too much from their properties.

But residents of nearby houses are skeptical that the decibel limits are realistic.

Wayne Carnes of North Douglas had the commissioners watch a decibel meter while he played a tape of engines revving at various volumes. A "quiet day at the park" of four riders would produce 65 to 70 decibels at property lines, he said.

"If anybody would like me to play that at their house from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., I'd be more than happy to do that," he said.

Kent Sullivan, an attorney whose property is 1,400 feet from the proposed park, said he pored through Google Earth satellite images to measure distances between off-highway vehicle parks and the nearest residences.

The proposed park would be closer to houses than any of them, he said.

Other residents said they've already seen or heard misbehavior in the area from illegal riding. They questioned whether the city could handle enforcing laws with higher traffic.

Park supporters said most ATV riders are law-abiding people.

"I don't drink and I've never been in a fight," said Kasen Spickler. "We're all responsible riders. We're just looking for one place to ride."

"I can't help but think there's a way to mitigate some of the noise," said Dave Hanna, whether it's a vegetative buffer, engine mufflers or other solutions. "I think they should be given a chance to test it and see if it will work."

Planning commissioners didn't discuss the proposal Tuesday, but it is on the April 22 meeting agenda.

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