12th St. vote another 'bump in the road'

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Juneau Assembly earlier this week decided 5-4 against following a request from a group of 12th Street residents and petitioners to keep the current dimensions of that street's sidewalks.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The residents, totaling 25 as of Monday, made the request following an Assembly decision against narrowing the street, as the Engineering Department and the Planning Commissions recommended - a decision many of the residents also protested.

The Engineering Department recommended widening the existing sidewalks to the city's full right of way. Residents have disputed how far the right of way extends.

The widening will take up to 18 inches of what some residents say is their yard.

The 5-4 Assembly vote this week followed Engineering Director Rorie Watt's presentation on property surveys in the area, public comment from several residents and Assembly discussion.

Watt elaborated on this history of surveying in the area, and said the city is very comfortable with the boundaries its surveyor has determined. Any question about property lines is 2 inches maximum, he said.

"This is something we take very seriously," he said.

Resident Thea Howard contends the city didn't follow its own procedures for what to do when original survey monuments are no longer discernible. She also questioned the accuracy of the city's survey, saying it said she needed to make property improvements already made and clearly visible.

Residents also pointed to exceptions made for properties nearby in earlier neighborhood renovations.

Watt said those exceptions are because those properties were not on a route with "arterial" access to downtown.

"We tried to pragmatically widen where we could. It's not more or less complicated than that," he said. "We aren't trying to set any kind of hard and fast policy on this project. Basically, we're trying to respond to the non-motorized transportation plan, which the Assembly passed in the midst of the Casey-Shattuck renovations."

The Casey-Shattuck neighborhood is the area in which 12th Street lies.

Watt also said it would cost around $1 million to move the electrical utilities underground, and around $20,000 to move even one utility pole from the middle of the sidewalk to its edge. There are several utility poles currently in the middle of the sidewalk.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson, who voted in January against narrowing the road, made the motion to support the petition's request not to narrow the sidewalks, either.

"I supported not narrowing the road because I saw it as belonging to the whole of the city, not just the neighborhood," he said. "We need to keep that route as an effective one. But with sidewalks, however, I grant a lot more discretion to the neighborhood."

Assembly member Merrill Sanford voted against the petition's request.

"I've gone back and forth on this thing myself. In my view, we're not taking anybody's property, we're using the right of way that belongs to the city of Juneau," he said. "I would hate for us not to do everything we can to get as much sidewalk as we can."

Assembly members Anderson, Jeff Bush, Ruth Danner and Bob Doll voted to support the petitioners' request; Assembly members Johan Dybdahl, Sanford, David Stone, Randy Wanamaker and Mayor Bruce Botelho voted to keep the plans the same as they are currently.

Howard called the vote "a bump in the road" and said the residents will keep fighting the changes on the street.

Work on the street project is already under way.

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