Group formed to develop west Douglas

Organization plans to lobby for sales tax revenue to pay for building a second bridge

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A new working group that formed to promote economic development on west Douglas Island will lobby the city for sales tax revenue to fund an environmental study for a second channel crossing.

The West Douglas Development Working Group advocates a second Gastineau Channel crossing along with commercial, residential and recreational development of west Douglas.

The planning area, on the northwest side of Douglas Island beyond the end of North Douglas Highway, has long been viewed as a future growth area for Juneau. Issues regarding land ownership, a lack of infrastructure and environmental issues have delayed development.

The group met for the first time Wednesday at City Hall to discuss the prospects of completing an environmental impact statement for the second channel crossing. Mayor Bruce Botelho appointed seven members who are to serve two-year terms.

West Douglas is zoned for industrial development and would be an important addition to Juneau's small industrial land base, said Linda Thomas, working group chairwoman and general manager of Alaskan Brewing Co. Further, companies do not want to develop in residential neighborhoods, and vice versa, Thomas said.

"The goal is to focus on the second channel crossing and to get the EIS done so we can figure out where it will go and how to develop around it," Thomas said.

Besides an 18-hole professional golf course in west Douglas, there are no other specific development projects in the works, Thomas said.

The state has $2.2 million for field studies but still needs another $3 million to complete the environmental impact statement, Department of Transportation Southeast Region Director Gary Paxton said.

The working group would lobby for $3 million and target a temporary 1 percent city sales tax that sunsets on Dec. 31, 2005. The tax was approved by voters for five years.

The Assembly is expected to vote in favor of renewing the tax for a certain number of years and put it on this October's election ballot.

The tax would generate about $6.15 million per year, City Finance Director Craig Duncan said. If voters approve the renewal of the 1 percent sales tax, the money would start funding various city projects on Jan. 1, 2006, he said. That's the same year the state had hoped to have an EIS completed.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford, who also sits on the working group, said he favors a second channel crossing. But he is not prepared to recommend some of the sales tax go toward the EIS until he meets with other Assembly members this week.

The Assembly's capital improvement project committee is holding a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. today in chambers to discuss a list of about 15 priority projects that could be funded by the sales tax revenue. If the Assembly decides not to apply the sales tax toward the study, Sanford said it could look at other options such as revenue bonds, property taxes and different sales tax money.

"The needs are so great and the funds are so few," Sanford said.

Further developing the city sewer system should happen before the second channel crossing, although both projects work in concert, Sanford said.

Sixty-three percent of Juneau residents support a second channel crossing, according to a December 2003 study by McDowell Group Inc. in Juneau.

Twenty-two percent were neutral on the concept and 16 percent opposed a second bridge, the study said. About half of the residents opposed to a second crossing say it is not needed, the study says. Others say a crossing would divert funds from other projects. Some have environmental concerns including the impact to the Mendenhall Wetlands.

About 65 percent of Juneau residents believe improved access to the west Douglas area is important for Juneau's future development. Seventy one percent support a mix of recreational, commercial and residential development.

The North Douglas Neighborhood Association has not taken a formal position on the crossing, but has some concerns, said member Mike Stanley who attended Wednesday's meeting.

The EIS should not only study the second channel crossing, but also a "bench road," Stanley said. A bench road would run above North Douglas Highway, serving as a shortcut to west Douglas.

North Douglas Highway is already heavily traveled, Stanley said, so a bench road would alleviate some of that. Even with a second channel crossing, people traveling downtown will still take the Douglas Bridge, he said.

"A bench road should be analyzed in tandem and not piecemeal," Stanley said.

The association also wants the public to be able to see all of the second channel crossing options and have input, Stanley said.

Further, the association advocates a "sub-area" plan in addition to an EIS and comprehensive plan, he said. A "sub-area" plan would focus on specific sections of how west Douglas would be developed.

Environmental and other concerns could also arise, he said, depending on where the second crossing is built.

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