City looks to extend sewer to N. Douglas

Residents to share cost of project likely to spur development

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2007

North Douglas is approaching a crossroads that could lead to a transformation of one end of the island.

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The city is planning to extend sewers to homes on North Douglas, creating the potential for rapid growth in the sparsely populated area. The project would be funded by a Local Improvement District, an area in which property owners share some of the design and construction costs of capital improvement projects.

City officials and North Douglas residents met earlier this week to discuss the cumbersome LID process and how the city would assess property owners' share of the project's costs.

About two dozen North Douglas property owners attended the Thursday night meeting to find out about the costs of what many said is a much-needed improvement.

Some homeowners are worried, however, that the owners of large lots will pay for a disproportionate part of the project if they subdivide their land for development.

"We were all there at the meeting to make sure that it was a fair way to assess the sewers between the homeowners and the large tracks of land, because the potential is there to really impact North Douglas," said Matt Felix, homeowner and North Douglas Neighborhood Association member.

Although project costs are likely to change, initial estimates for the first phase would require property owners to pay $2 million of the $5.5 million cost, said Rorie Watt, deputy director of the Engineering Department. The city's temporary sales tax revenues would fund most of the remaining $3.5 million.

The city has proposed charging single-family homes $6,500 under the LID, and the costs increase from there depending on size and zoning of the property. Some of the properties would be required to pay five- or six-digit fees for the project.

Dividing up the property owners' share is no easy task, Watt said. Parcels in North Douglas come in different sizes and dimensions, property usage is diverse and the area includes multiple zoning districts, he said.

"We're trying to come up with a method that everyone can look at and take to be reasonable," Watt said.

Every property owner in the project area has been sent a ballot to vote on the proposed LID and assessment method, Watt said. The Juneau Assembly will have final approval of the LID.

"Likely construction won't start until the spring and it will probably take us a year-plus to finish it all," he said.

If the LID is approved, the assessment method cannot be changed, Watt said.

"You only get to assess for sewer one time, so if the city assesses these development companies and big properties too low, they don't get a chance to go back," Felix said.

Providing sewers for North Douglas has been discussed for a long time and is a city priority for two reasons, Watt said.

"One is basic sanitation," he said. "The other part is of course opening up land for development."

Dilapidated septic systems have led to high bacteria counts and smelly areas along the highway. The proposed project could remedy that, Watt said.

"We have a lot of systems out there that function quite poorly," he said. "As you walk along the highway you can definitely smell some systems."

Homeowner Drew Grabham said most North Douglas residents seem to be in favor of hooking up to city sewers, but questions remain. Many wonder what changes the sewer will bring with it and if the project will change the character of the area, he said.

"That's the hot-button issue for a lot of people around here, if development is going to happen," Grabham said.

Some neighbors are also skeptical about how the project will move forward and what it will look like when it's done, he said.

"There's a lot of confusing things about that, about what is going on and who's the priority here," Grabham said.

He said, however, he is grateful of the lengths the city is going to educate property owners about the process.

Felix said sewers are long overdue for North Douglas, but the project should be done fairly.

"Although we need it and want it," he said, "we want the city to realize that this is going to have a big impact on North Douglas."

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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