An idea now gaining steam in Juneau's business and realty community is that extending sewer and water lines is the best route to improving Juneau's housing situation. This misguided concept dates from the early days of the automobile, when American planners envisioned an endless supply of land and cheap gasoline. An automobile-centric view of ever-expanding suburbs contributed to the death of urban centers across the United States, traffic snarls and the massive consumption of gasoline. Locally, extending the sewer system and low-density suburban housing increases such costs as utility maintenance, policing and snow-removal while making public transportation inefficient.
Developers and Realtors such as Chuck Ramage are 100 percent correct when they say that Juneau should allow greater housing density. Our outdated zoning laws, written half a century ago by long-dead traffic engineers and fire marshals, favor driving over walking. Single-story commercial buildings with big parking lots make poor use of their large footprint. Meanwhile, mixed commercial and residential zones, like downtown Juneau, are actually illegal to build, eliminating the corner store and the small shop with upstairs apartments. It must be pointed out that walkable, mixed-use downtown Juneau consistently maintains higher property values than the Mendenhall Valley.
Developers should be encouraged to build affordable small townhouses in high density clusters within our present sewer system. Streets should be narrowed and lot sizes decreased to allow greater density. Hugh Grant's proposed development close to Fred Meyer is a great opportunity for a walkable community. Likewise, the commercial areas near the Nugget Mall would be ideal for residential housing and would contribute to the mall as a walkable community center. Let's change our zoning rules and let our developers do the right thing, not waste money extending the sewer system.