Next step for golf course?

Developer, city must negotiate deal for land

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

The Juneau Planning Commission's approval last week of a West Douglas golf course signaled the start of yet more land negotiations.

The commission last week unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for an 18-hole, 200-acre golf course at the end of North Douglas Highway. Nonprofit developer Totem Creek Inc. has wrangled with some government agencies and members of the public for several years about the project's design and environmental impacts.

The conditional-use permit can be appealed to the Juneau Assembly. Barring that, the next step is negotiations with the city about land and the financial feasibility of the project, Totem Creek board member David George said.

The golf course is planned for city-owned land. The Juneau Assembly outlined a process to lease, sell or exchange the property in a 1996 resolution. A sale or lease can occur only after Totem Creek demonstrates the economic feasibility and financing for the project, according to the Assembly's resolution.

The Assembly authorized the city manager to start negotiations in 1996, but Totem Creek wanted to focus on permitting first, City Lands and Resources Manager Steve Gilbertson said.

"They've taken one giant step and there are some additional steps to go," he said Monday.

If the city sells the property to Totem Creek, the price for land and timber shouldn't be less than $2,500 an acre - $500,000 for 200 acres - according to the resolution. Gilbertson cautioned the property values in the resolution are seven years old and the city would look at current values.

It's likely a lease might be the preferred option, he said.

"We're looking at more of a lease for the land than a sale because we think it's more beneficial to both parties," Gilbertson said. "Another option that certainly should be looked at is a lease rate contingent on the gross sales on a sliding scale. That's useful in that it doesn't require money up front from the golf course developer and the city can share if the golf course is successful."

Totem Creek President Peter Metcalfe said the group's board was not ready to discuss details of future negotiations with the city. How the land will be transferred depends on how much the city wants to be involved in the project, he said.

"If the city wants to be a full partner with us we welcome it," said Metcalfe. "But we really have no preset plans on how this thing will be financed. Our only plan is to be open-minded. We welcome any suggestions."

Metcalfe said Totem Creek held off trying to attract financial backers for the project until the end of the conditional-use permitting process.

"We didn't want to make a partner go through that six- or seven-year ordeal and risk losing a financial partner," Metcalfe said. "We plan to discuss our next move and financing at a meeting next week. ... We plan to get creative, get moving and get to building a golf course."

The Assembly's 1996 resolution included conditions to protect nearby Peterson Creek, and for the city manager to work with Totem Creek on a design that "shall be no less stringent" than that required by Audubon's golf course certification program. Audubon International, which is not affiliated with the birding group National Audubon Society, has environmental certification programs for golf course design and operations.

Mark Jaqua, a planner with the city's Community Development Department, said the Planning Commission didn't directly address Audubon certification last week, but recommended the Assembly look at the city permitting record on the issue.

"Both (of Totem Creek's) professional consultants have made assurances that the golf course as planned and laid out now would comply," he said.

The Planning Commission also recommended the Assembly carefully consider the city's responsibilities for the ongoing protection of the Peterson Creek watershed and an extension of North Douglas Highway. The Assembly also should review possible winter uses for the property, such as cross-country skiing, the commission said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at Empire reporter Melanie Plenda contributed to this article.

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