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ATVers shut out of North Douglas

Planning commission denies permit for park

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

Even after the plan was amended to answer neighbors' concerns, the Juneau Planning Commission denied a permit Tuesday night for an off-highway vehicle park in North Douglas.

Commissioners said they were sympathetic to all-terrain vehicle riders who have no place to ride legally in the area. They've been shut out of the Dredge Lake and Echo Cove areas because of conflicts with other users or damage to the area. A lack of legal play-space has, many say, increased riding in illegal spaces.

The Juneau Assembly directed the city administration to find a place where riders could get their kicks legally.

City Lands Manager Heather Marlow applied for a permit last year with James Tipps, president of the local riders' group, Rough Riders AK, to develop a 58-acre off-highway vehicle park at the Lower Fish Creek Rock Quarry once the quarry is no longer operating.

But most nearby property owners, including some who identified themselves as ATV or motorcycle enthusiasts, opposed the park.

"The neighborhood all wants the same thing," resident Karen Wells said. "We want peace and quiet."

At a March meeting, a Lower 48 property assessor hired by North Douglas residents told the commission that property values would go down if the park were built. He also supplied evidence that the park was unusually close to residential property lines.

Commissioners asked staff then to collect more information on sound data and ATV ordinances in other places.

Marlow brought up a Lower 48 sound expert, Michael Minor, with experience with Alaska projects and a Portland, Ore., racetrack.

Minor suggested lowering evening maximum noise levels at the property lines to half the volume of the daytime noise. To that end, he recommended moving the riding area to 650 feet instead of 350 feet from nearby property lines.

He assured the commission that with proper tailpipe sound testing, the distance would be sufficient to keep the volume heard by neighbors to reasonable levels.

"It's some of the best foliage I've ever seen for noise reduction," he said.

But property owners challenged his assumptions of sound-absorbing foliage, or of a maximum 30 riders at one time in the park. They also questioned the validity of a model with no recent data.

"There's just a few big trees, and then it's all muskeg between us and the entrance road," neighbor Pamela Eberhardt said. "The dense evergreen foliage scenario does not apply to where we live."

And while Minor's estimates focused on the volume people would hear from the park, he conceded, upon a question from Commissioner Frank Rue, that volume isn't the only variable that matters to people.

Rue can hear cars on the highway when he sits outside his house, he said - despite an evergreen-filled swath between him and the road that should, from what he had just learned about sound, keep the highway sounds quiet at his place.

"I don't understand why I'm annoyed," he said.

"I'm not telling you you're not going to hear the OHVs," Minor said. "Some people are more sensitive to noise than others."

Commissioners Rue, Michael Satre, Vic Scarano, Dan Miller and Maria Gladziszewski voted the project down.

Satre voted against the project "reluctantly," and objected to what he perceived was unfair maligning of well-meaning ATV riders.

He said that while he has never liked judging projects on whether they jibe with neighborhood harmony, because the criterion is "difficult to quantify," he had to follow the rules - and this project didn't pass.

Commissioner Dennis Watson gave the lone yes vote to the project, saying he believed consultant Minor that the sound levels would be reasonable.

Commissioners Linda Snow, Nancy Waterman and Dan Bruce were absent.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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