The Juneau Planning Commission said Tuesday night that plans to build a new tourist mall in a severe landslide hazard zone on South Franklin Street are safe enough to give developers the go-ahead. But some nearby residents argued safe enough isn't good enough and said they will try to halt construction.
In a 6-1 vote, the Planning Commission approved a request for a hillside endorsement and an allowable-use permit from developers Steve Landvik and Trucano Construction, also known as Trucano/Landvik.
The permit allows Trucano/ Landvik to build a 15,600-square-foot tourist-oriented mall in a severe landslide zone while the endorsement allows them to drill into the hillside. The mall will be built in the vacant lot near to the now-defunct Armadillo restaurant below Gastineau Avenue.
Gastineau Avenue residents said they are afraid vibrations from pile driving into the already unstable hillside, composed of loose dirt and rocks from previous landslides, will damage their properties and could endanger them should a slide occur.
Residents said they base their fears on experience with developers. Victoria Collins, a Gastineau Avenue resident, said she lives in the building that sunk several inches when the H&H building was built into the hillside above South Franklin in the winter of 2000. She said vibrations from pile driving caused the foundation of her building to crack and the ground to separate from beneath it.
Resident Nancy Moyse said the Planning Commission did the community a disservice by approving the project.
"We have rules and regulations for a reason: To serve the community and protect people," said Moyse. "When we ignore those for profit and financial gain or because it's an inconvenience at that moment to live by them, to do what we know is dangerous, it is dishonorable."
The residents said they will appeal the Planning Commission's decision and may go to court to halt construction.
Engineer Adrian Slater said in March that R&M Construction will use covered drills when pile driving the hillside, which should reduce vibrations and the risk of slide. He also said a retaining wall will be installed to help stabilize the hillside and catch any slide debris.
The majority of the Planning Commission also disagreed, in part, with the residents.
Commissioner Maria Gladzis-zewski, who voted in favor of the permit and endorsement, said initially she wasn't convinced the project should go forward because none of the engineers could guarantee drilling into the hillside would be safer this time than it was nearly two years ago. But she said Tuesday night that she would have to trust them.
Commissioner Dan Bruce agreed and said, "R&M is willing to put their name and their endorsement on this, an insurance company has stepped up to the plate and feels it is safe enough to endorse this and the developers are willing to be personally liable for this project. ... We should to defer to the experts on this and so I support this motion."
The only dissenting vote Tuesday came from Commissioner Marshal Kendziorek who said the risks of the project outweighed the benefits.
City planners attached several conditions to the permit and endorsement, including requiring the developers to retain a civil engineer to monitor all adjacent properties for ground movement, provide daily reports to the city's engineering department, stop construction if movement occurs and get $1 million in insurance to repair any damage caused by construction.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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