Assembly OKs higher home density near glacier

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2004

When Michelle Kaelke considered buying a house on Trapper's Lane five years ago, she was attracted by the Montana Creek neighborhood's rural atmosphere. She bought the house after studying the city's comprehensive plan for the area to ensure the neighborhood would remain a quiet residential area.

Developers came in, bought 52 acres near Montana Creek and are considering building condominiums there. The developers - Jim Wilcox Sr. and Malcolm Menzies - recently asked the city to change the area's density from D1 (one home per acre) to D3 (three per acre).

After hearing the residents' concerns, the Juneau Planning Commission decided to change the density of 35 acres of the 52 acres to three homes per acre and keep the rest to a dwelling per acre.

The Assembly approved the Planning Commission's decision at its Monday meeting. Assemblyman Marc Wheeler was the only one opposing the plan.

"Townhouse construction should be more appropriate to industrial areas, not to this area," Wheeler said.

Homeowners such as Kaelke strongly fought against the developers' proposal.

"The city leaders put up a comprehensive plan for the area, which would keep high-density housing on the lower portion of the Mendenhall Valley and low-density housing near the glacier," said Kaelke, who represented 400 homeowners of the West Mendenhall Valley Neighborhood Association, which opposed the plan. "Having condos will change the characteristic of our neighborhood."

Traffic is another big concern for the neighbors. Montana Creek Road is a two-lane road with no shoulders. Although the state has planned to upgrade the road during the past nine years, it hasn't done anything yet, according to Kaelke.

Assemblyman Merrill Sanford said the zoning change will not cause a significant increase in density.

"The West Mendenhall Valley area was developed only 10 or 12 years ago. The 1987 comprehensive plan actually allowed the Planning Commission to upgrade the zoning from D1 to D5 when public sewer and water were extended to the area. But that was dropped because of property owners' objections," Sanford said. "D3 will be just fine to keep the neighborhood's rural character."

Barbara Sheinberg, a planner who represents the developers, agreed with Wheeler.

"There is ample open space and natural areas surrounding the Glacier Lands Subdivision to offset and balance the small density increase," Sheinberg said.

Developer Wilcox promised the neighbors that he will work with them in the design process. He also promised to construct a bicycle path along Montana Creek Road.

Kaelke said she is upset about the Assembly's decision.

"We will just work with the developers and see if they will do what they say," she said.

•I-Chun Che can be reached at

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