My Turn: Smuggler's Cove residents are concerned about Spuhn access

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

T he Empire presented a superficial point of view in its article of July 15 on the Smuggler's Cove Neighborhood Association's appeal of the Juneau Planning Commission's preliminary plat approval for the Spuhn Island subdivision.

The issue of access for the seven remote lots on the tip of the Mendenhall Peninsula is not a reason for the appeal. Attempts to gain improved access to these lots have been under way for 20 years. City staff agree that this issue stands alone and is being pursued separately. Planning and lands personnel from the city are to be credited for working with the residents of the remote parcels to improve their access. This effort is, however, in no way tied to or part of the concern by residents of the cove about the very real congestion they face for decades to come with potential development of Spuhn Island.

The appeal was filed because the neighborhood association believes that there are serious access issues associated with Spuhn Island development, as well as potential future costs to Juneau, which need to be addressed at this time.

The 38-lot subdivision now being considered for the island is only a portion of the planned future development of Spuhn Island. More than 60 lots were proposed initially, and more than 100 lots are possible when the island is fully developed. City staff expect 60 percent of these lots to be occupied by local residents who commute to the mainland daily. The experience of other Alaska communities with island subdivisions is that these residents demand city services including improvements and access to the nearest road.

Private developers of a subdivision on the road system have to pay for roads and associated access costs. For the Spuhn Island Subdivision, these issues were not realistically addressed at preliminary plat approval. The result is that the public will have to bear these expenses, which will be considerable, as lots are sold and the subdivision is occupied, unless the issues are addressed now. The failure to act now pushes these development costs into the future and amounts to a public subsidy of private development.

Parking and moorage is now planned at the Auke Bay harbor, several miles away. However, residents of the island will not use this access when public access is available at the end of Fritz Cove Road, several hundred yards from the island. There will be increasing pressure for dock, moorage, and more parking at the end of Fritz Cove Road. Island residents, construction workers, service persons, and visitors will access the island from the end of Fritz Cove Road.

The need for immediate access will drive people to compete for the limited parking now available and demand docking for their boats. As the subdivision grows and is occupied, its residents will demand city services while paying the minimum property taxes associated with rural reserve properties. This progression of events is predictable and inevitable.

The appeal was filed to assure all residents of the cove a voice in meeting this situation realistically, not to stop or hinder plans for responsible development. The association believes that alternatives for access at the end of the peninsula do exist and are the responsibility of the developer. The community at the end of Fritz Cove Road, and all who use and enjoy Smuggler's Cove, deserve realistic answers to issues of parking, access, and the impact of this major subdivision.

• Jon Lyman is the president of Smuggler's Cove Neighborhood Association.

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