A small piece of waterfront property in Auke Bay would be the perfect place to launch kayaks, eat lunch, take school groups and watch wildlife, according to residents who want the city to turn it into a park.
But whether city officials act on the idea could depend on money, development plans, timing and the city's land base.
The 28-room Auke Bay Harbor Lodge and restaurant could someday sit on the 0.3-acre site next to the Upper Statter Harbor parking lot. Property owner Rich Harris has been pursuing state, federal and city permits. The lodge would cater to anglers, kayakers and other visitors, he said.
"Everything would be right here for them," Harris said.
Harris said he would be willing to sell the land to the city. But if a sale doesn't happen, he doesn't want his permits held up, he said.
Meanwhile, Auke Bay residents have asked the city to buy the land and turn it into a waterfront park. Andi Story, who lives nearby, said the community has several reasons to acquire the land.
"Vision for Auke Bay. Long-term planning. Public waterfront," she said. "You've got to have vision."
Neighbor Nancy Lehnhart said the property is an opportunity for residents, the University of Alaska Southeast and grade-school students.
"I hope we'll get creative about funding ideas and I think 20 years down the line we'll be so glad we did. It will really add to the community," she said.
The city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in August unanimously recommended that the city purchase the property if it sells another piece of public property of the same value. Juneau Assembly Lands Committee Chairman Marc Wheeler said the panel will consider the recommendation at a meeting Oct. 15. Assembly members and residents toured the area last week.
Wheeler said Juneau residents have expressed a desire for waterfront access, but the city needs to proceed carefully.
"There may be some creative solution. Buying it may not be the only way to go," he said.
As a rough estimate, it might cost $300,000 to acquire the land, city Lands Manager Steve Gilbertson said. If the Assembly buys property in the Mendenhall Valley for a new library or other public purpose, $981,268 would remain the city's land fund. Much of that will be needed to make improvements to lots the city wants to sell at Lena Point, he said. The city also has been asked to acquire land next to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, he said.
As an alternative, the city could develop the land it owns around the upper harbor parking lot next to the Harris property, Gilbertson said.
"There are some good alternatives using existing city property to the side and the front. We really could do a lot of the same things on our own property," he said.
But neighbors aren't convinced the land in front of the parking lot would be a good substitute, Lehnhart said.
"I don't think people are asking for the opportunity to sit out at the end of a parking lot. I think it has a totally different feel when you come out here amongst the trees. There's more of a park feel," she said.
Lehnhart points to the land fund, the cruise ship passenger fee, private donors, the university, the state and other sources as funding possibilities. Volunteers could help develop the site, she added.
"I think that the potential for what it can offer to the community as a green space and waterfront access, to me is the issue," she said. "It's not an anti-development thing."
John MacKinnon, who serves on the Lands Committee, said buying property to stop development is poor public policy.
"There are times when the city needs to purchase property and I support those when they come up. I don't see the need to purchase this one," he said.
Lands committee member Cathy Mu-oz said the Assembly has tried to balance decisions to buy and sell property to keep as much land on the tax rolls as possible.
"Personally, I think it's a great idea," she said of the Auke Bay proposal. "I think it makes a lot of sense to have that piece of land for access to the waterfront ... If the restaurant happens, that would be a positive, too."
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.
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