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How long for a permit?

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

As golf courses have proliferated at a time of increasing concerns about the environment and community growth, it's not unusual for the permitting process to stretch out, experts say.

It can take anywhere from two months to 10 years to get permits, depending partly on local attitudes toward growth, said Damian Pascuzzo, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

An application for a city conditional use permit for a golf course on Douglas Island has been open for nearly four years, and it's not clear when the developers will get a yes or no answer.

Two years ago Sitka approved a rezone, a conditional use permit and a land lease for a nine-hole golf course within nine months, said city planning director Wells Williams.

But there are differences between the Sitka and Juneau projects.

The Sitka course, which is in an industrial area, is on land that was used to hold cleared brush and soil moved from other sites. It will have artificial greens, so it is less likely to use pesticides. The only wetlands nearby were of low value. The land drains into existing channels.

Sitka didn't ask for environmental studies before approving the course, Williams said.

And Sitka's attitudes toward development may differ from Juneau's, he said.

"The Juneau planning office is a different organization than we are," Williams said. "Their level of review and requirement for studies is consistent with the political environment in Juneau, whereas the political environment in Sitka is much looser. We process things far faster than Juneau does. It's what our citizens demand of us."

Laura Beason, a Douglas resident who supports the golf course, thinks the city permitting process has taken too long.

"Certainly it's discouraging development of any kind and investors coming into the community if it's going to take years to get anything accomplished," she said.

"I think they (city authorities) need to pick a point and say, 'This is the best information we have at this time,' and base their decision on that information."

It took six years for an 18-hole golf course and 386 homesites to be reviewed by about 20 agencies and approved in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., said course general manager Bonnie Lauer.

"You have to have a lot of patience and a lot of money to wait them out," she said. "You think you've done everything, and someone else pops their head up and says, 'Oh no, you've got to do this, too.'"

"It's taken way too long," said Juneau City Manager Dave Palmer. But the city has tried to respond to concerns brought up in public testimony, he said.

Maybe the city should have changed its code to specify what would be considered in applications for permits for golf courses, Palmer said.

The Douglas course's architect, William Robinson of Florence, Ore., said he has designed 289 new courses and renovated 198 others over a 37-year career. He said it should take one to two years from first talking about a project to getting a yes or no answer from the permitting agency. But he said the local process has helped, despite the delays and additional costs.

"We have been pushed to design something that met the environmental concerns of a number of agencies, and we've done that, and the golf course design is better for that," he said. "It's just a shame that it took so long."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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