Builders look for denser zoning

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Developers called Tuesday night for denser zoning in the upper Mendenhall Valley, saying Juneau's future is at stake.

But some area residents, who oppose denser housing, say they are also worried about the future of Montana Creek.

The Juneau Planning Commission looked at four proposed zoning changes encompassing more than 50 acres off Mendenhall Loop Road in the Montana Creek area at Tuesday's meeting. Current zoning allows one housing unit per acre. City staff recommended most areas be changed to allow three units per acre.

The Planning Commission did not make a decision by the Empire's press time Tuesday night.

It is a matter of making more housing available, city planner Nathan Bishop said. While no subdivision plans have been reviewed for the city, plans to develop part of the 44-acre parcel considered Tuesday are already in the works, developer Sandy Bicknell told the commission.

The issue is affordable housing, said Charles Ramage, representing almost 18 acres owned by the Catherine and Paul Barrett Living Trust. But if Juneau is to remain Alaska's capital, state employees will need to be able to afford to live here, he told commissioners.

"They have been looking for an excuse to move the capital, and this is playing right into their hands," he said.

"Half the population can't buy a home, and half the population can't rent a home," Ramage said. "There has to be a comprehensive understanding how much trouble we're in."

"Everything Mr. Ramage had to say, I'd like to repeat," said Murray Walsh, representing Duran Construction, proposing to rezone 3.6 acres.

Bicknell said he wants to be able to build three units per acre in the property he wants rezoned. That would give it the same character as the subdivision he already has developed on the other side of Montana Creek Estates.

The developers said, though, that city requirements on building in the flood plain are too restrictive.

Neighborhood resident Karla Hart said she didn't see the staff recommendation presenting any hardship. She said the zoning change, which would have to be approved by the Juneau Assembly, would triple property values.

"Montana Creek Estates is beautiful, but it cannot be described as affordable housing," she said. She asked commissioners to consider the value of the wetlands and the creek.

She said more driveways and more asphalt would "add up to another dead creek."

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