Building height a hot issue for waterfront plan

Some call for bonus system that allows taller buildings in exchange for public amenities

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

After two years of work, the Juneau Assembly held its first public hearing on the city's Long-range Waterfront Plan. But the public and businesses were divided over what the city needs on its waterfront.

The Assembly unanimously decided to table a decision on the plan until Oct. 25.

Building height remains a contentious issue. Some residents said that the city should have height restrictions on waterfront development. But representatives from the Alaska Mental Health Trust - owner of the area called the subport - said height flexibility is important to allow for economically feasible development.

Alison Smith, who represents the Alaska Mental Health Trust, proposed a bonus system, which allows developers to build public amenities in exchange for height flexibility.

Assembly member Jim Powell, who stressed the importance of preserving Juneau's waterfront, said he would support the bonus system but still would like to see the plan limit maximum building height.

Smith also asked the Assembly to incorporate into its waterfront proposal a comprehensive plan completed in April of 2003 by the city, Goldbelt Native corporation and Alaska Land and Pier Co. The Assembly directed staff to explore the possibility.

At the meeting, the Assembly received feedback from the cruise ship industry about the plan. The Assembly decided to conduct a study to identify locations to build a cruise ship dock outside downtown. But the NorthWest Cruiseship Association said it is not interested in having a cruise ship dock away from the core downtown area, said Kirby Day, the on-shore tour operator for Princess Cruises in southeast Alaska.

"It makes more sense to tie up where visitors can access downtown easily and visit the business district to shop," Day said.

The cruise ship association also rejected the two cruise ship dock expansion plans proposed by the city. The original draft proposed extending the city dock so two 960-foot-long cruise ships can berth. The Docks and Harbors suggested building a finger dock perpendicular to Marine Park.

"But we are interested in one more berth which should help minimize the need to have a large ship at anchor," Day said.

The Downtown Business Association and Juneau Chamber of Commerce also support building a cruise ship dock near Gold Creek as an economic engine for the subport area. But previous community surveys said about 55 percent of Juneau residents opposed it out of concerns about traffic congestion and environmental impacts.

"Plans like this take time and we urge the Assembly not to rush into adoption of this plan," said Chris Wyatt, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.



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