City studies changes to setback rules near streams

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002

The Juneau Assembly may change city policy that governs development near streams and lakes.

Proposed amendments to the city's comprehensive plan were forwarded to the Assembly by the Juneau Planning Commission and still are under discussion. The comprehensive plan was last revised in 1996 and provides policy guidance for land use in Juneau.

In one of the biggest changes, the no-disturbance zone next to streams would increase from 25 to 33 feet to improve water quality and habitat, according to a proposal from the city's Community Development Department. Current rules calls for a 25-foot no-disturbance zone from the ordinary high-water mark of fish streams and lakes.

The change would add 8 feet to the protected area, where trees cannot be cut and structures cannot be built, but would allow some exceptions. The amendment would add specific examples of what would and wouldn't be allowed within no-disturbance areas and stream setbacks, Community Development Department Director Dale Pernula said.

As an example, homeowners would be allowed to put fences, gardens, swing sets and unfertilized lawns 33 feet away from the ordinary high water mark. Decks, structures, roof overhangs and parking areas wouldn't be allowed.

In addition, the city would add a more detailed definition of the ordinary high water mark into the plan.

The stream setback of 50 feet would not change.

The proposal to increase the no-disturbance area drew objections from Assembly member Dale Anderson, who lives at the edge of Auke Lake.

"Unless the city is willing to decrease our taxes, I don't think they have the right to take another 8 feet," he said at a work session last week.

But Planning Commissioner Marshal Kendziorek criticized the Assembly for not moving forward with the proposed changes after months of review. The comprehensive plan amendments will help resolve important land-use questions that have troubled the Planning Commission and local residents, he said.

"The real beef of what we did is not the 8 feet," he said. "What we've attempted to do is provide flexibility and to provide a definition of 'no disturbance' so landowners can understand what they can and cannot do."

The exact location of an ordinary high water mark on someone's property comes up frequently in Planning Commission discussions, commissioner Merrill Sanford added.

"These are things we have to deal with over and over again," he said. "We need these things spelled out better."

Property owners who have an existing development in a stream setback won't be affected by the change. In general, people who plan changes within a stream setback need a variance from the Planning Commission.

Even if the comprehensive plan amendments are approved, officials still would need to change the city's land use code, city planner Oscar Graham said.

"They won't be immediately reflected in the land use code," he said. "These are policies that would enable the city to then look at its land use code."

Other proposed amendments to the city's comprehensive plan would:

• Extend the city's urban service boundary to include the Bonnie Brae subdivision.

• Charge city officials with developing a city-wide storm water management program.

• Change the designation of land along the Montana Creek corridor from recreation service park to natural area park.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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