City attempts to facilitate more housing

Community Development Department revises its planned unit ordinance

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2005

City officials said they will help developers build more houses to tackle Juneau's housing shortage.

"We are not idling," said City Manager Rod Swope. "Things are happening."

Juneau Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said the Assembly has faced increasing pressure from the public to solve Juneau's high housing costs after the city sent out property assessment letters in April. Depending on the neighborhood, the property value of homes has increased as much as 25 percent.

"Although we had all the warning signs, the issue didn't hit home until recently," Wanamaker said. "We have become more aware of the need to provide affordable housing."

Wanamaker said businesses have trouble recruiting young workers because the rent is so expensive that young families cannot save enough money to buy their own house.

Dale Pernula, director of the Community Development Department, said the city has revised its planned unit ordinance to encourage housing development.

The ordinance allows developers to construct lots of various sizes if they agree to preserve a certain percentage of the subdivision for open space. Normally, a lot has to meet minimum depth, width and size requirements.

The ordinance may be helpful in developing a subdivision that has wetlands, a common challenge in Juneau.

Lowpete Construction is creating a subdivision near the end of Steelhead Street under the ordinance.

By leaving almost 40 percent of the subdivision, which is mostly wetlands, as open space, the developer is not required to build lots that are at least 12,000 square feet and can have lots ranging from 7,000 to 26,000 square feet.

City Planner Nathan Bishop said the ordinance gives developers the flexibility to build different types of housing, preserves the environment, and reduces construction and maintenance costs by concentrating houses in one part of the subdivision.

To facilitate housing development, the city needs to construct some basic infrastructure first, Pernula said.

For example, the city should build a parking garage or provide shuttle buses before encouraging more downtown housing, he said.

"There is a strong demand for downtown housing, where distances to jobs and services are short," Pernula said. "Creation of new dwelling units downtown, however, could exacerbate an existing deficit of parking."

Pernula said the city can also expedite housing development by:

• extending city sewer lines.

• rezoning areas that have sewer and water service for higher density.

• working with the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority to construct low- and moderate-income housing.

• and relaxing subdivision standards to make development less costly.

Pernula said he will prepare a timeline on when some of the proposals can be implemented.

Wanamaker said two Assembly committees - lands, and public works and facilities - will start discussions immediately on how to carry out Pernula's proposals. He expects the committees to present their suggestions to the whole Assembly by the end of this year.

"We need to put more homes in private hands so more people are sharing the cost of government and public services," Wanamaker said. "We need to find more affordable housing so young families will move to our community and stay."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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