Commission considers remote Douglas Island subdivision

Jan Van Dort wants to subdivide lots on undeveloped west side

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Juneau Planning Commission considered a request Tuesday by Jan Van Dort to subdivide 36 acres along Stephens Passage on Douglas Island into 10-acre lots.

The property is at the halfway point on the west side of Douglas Island and includes Hilda Cove.

Van Dort said he plans to individually sell the lots once the subdivision is approved. He declined Tuesday to give a selling price, but said a conservation organization has expressed "strong interest" in purchasing the entire property.

Van Dort declined to name the organization.

The Planning Commission approved the subdivision Tuesday with a list of conditions that include 50-foot development setbacks from two salmon spawning streams and a walking path along the beach.

Retired biologist Brenda Wright spoke Tuesday with concern for fish habitat along Hilda Creek.

Speaking of the fish spawning there, Wright said no other stream with similar habitat exists within 20 miles. She suggested a 200-foot setback from the streams instead of 50.

The state Department of Fish and Game also expressed concern for wildlife habitat in a letter to the city. The state biologist also wrote that Hilda Cove is the most sheltered anchorage on the west side of the island and is a popular spot with kayakers, hikers, hunters, trappers and fishermen.

Van Dort said in a March letter to the city planning department that he considers recreational pursuits on the property to be criminal trespass and that "people have no more right to picnic, hunt, fish, hike, camp or whatever on the property than I have to sleep in your living room."

The property is about 10 miles from the end of North Douglas Highway, and any new developments would be accessed by boat.

The property was part of the Tongass National Forest until 1923, when John F. McDonald homesteaded it. The property is bordered by Goldbelt Corp., U.S. Forest Service and city of Juneau land.

Noting that surrounding property includes Native allotments, Lorie Wallace said Tuesday that Alaska Natives consider parts of Van Dort's property a sacred area. Wallace said she would not explain her statement, but added that Hilda Cove "is where we gathered and put up fish forever."

Van Dort responded that aboriginal claims could not affect his title to the property.

"That's just not the way it works," he said.

Planning Commissioner Victor Scarano suggested Van Dort be more sensitive to differing ideas about property rights.

The meeting was the first of a two-part process required for major subdivisions under city law. To continue the process, Van Dort could address the conditions outlined by staff, then go before the Planning Commission for final approval.

Timing on a final meeting depends on Van Dort, city planner Daniel Sexton said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquisat 523-2279 or e-mail

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