Meeting launches hearings on city's comprehensive plan

Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Juneau residents touched on topics ranging from affordable housing to the Juneau access road and preservation of Montana Creek during the first public hearing Tuesday on the city's new comprehensive plan.

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The Juneau Planning Commission meeting drew roughly two dozen residents, many of them representing groups such as the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, the Juneau Friends of Recycling and the Juneau chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Beverly Anderson, 34, addressed the nine-member commission about housing, one of the top issues for local residents.

"Everybody says affordable housing is a crisis in Juneau, but it is a personal crisis for me," Anderson said. "Many of my friends are pretty much planning on leaving in the next few years because they want to buy homes and start families."

Anderson's testimony mimicked the number one concern expressed by residents in comments and meetings held since the draft of plan was released in February, city planner Susana Montana said.

The comprehensive plan, which has not been adopted and will undergo changes, is aimed at keeping the values important to Juneau residents while ensuring economic vitality and growth continues, Montana said.

She said the city plan looks at higher-density, taller buildings and mixed use developments as ways to alleviate the housing crunch as well as improving rapid or bus transit to reduce living costs.

"Not many people like this kind of living, so there has to be a cultural change for these units to be marketable," she said.

Chris Zimmer, president of the Juneau chapter of Trout Unlimited, said that one way to protect quality of life is to put preserves on natural areas. As part of the comprehensive plan, his group proposed the establishment of a 500-foot conservation corridor on the public lands surrounding Montana Creek in the Mendenhalll Valley. Zimmer said that a corridor will preserve the creek, popular for hiking and fly fishing, from damage by development.

"As Juneau grows, I think we will all benefit from protecting this natural resource," he said. He said the group has received little opposition to its plan.

Other speakers had different opinions about how the plan could ensure community vitality.

Murray Walsh, executive director of an economic development nonprofit organization called the Southeast Conference, encouraged the Planning Commission to amend the plan to include a statement declaring a road north to be a city priority.

"I think it is time to acknowledge, as the Assembly has done, that the Juneau access is the preferred access, he said.

"Sometimes we have to accept things," he added.

The comprehensive plan was released in February after a year of research and meetings. Its various chapters will be reviewed individually by the Planning Commission, with an estimated completion date set in mid-December.

The plan will then be sent to the Juneau Assembly for further discussion and final approval.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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