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Some 75 acres of land near Montana Creek's flood plains and wetlands are set to be rezoned for higher density housing.
The Juneau Assembly approved an ordinance Monday that rezones the parcels from one home per acre to three per acre, though the members stopped short of prescribing the maximum density of five houses per acre.
The ordinance is almost final, with the possibility of an Assembly member asking for a reconsideration of the law during the next meeting on Nov. 21. Deputy Mayor Randy Wanamaker, pushing for the highest density, was the lone dissenter in the vote.
West Mendenhall Valley residents and a handful of developers packed the Assembly chambers Monday to voice their opinions. The bottom line remained that the city wants to see some increase in housing for Juneau to foster affordable housing.
Developers said the density level decided upon, three homes per acre, will have wide enough lots for homes to be priced around $500,000 - not exactly affordable, as many were quick to point out.
Juneau Community Development director Dale Pernula said residents already living here would likely move into those homes, leaving behind more affordable ones for others.
The next step up, D-5, would squeeze in more homes on the property that would be priced around $350,000, developers said. Wanamaker said he supports D-5, but only if the housing is not built on sensitive wetlands.
Residents living near Mendenhall Loop Road who are concerned about environmental problems said a density of three homes per acre was a compromise. They said they fear even higher density would do the same damage as seen around Duck Creek, where reclamation is ongoing.
The wetlands are frequented by bears, deer and many species of birds feasting on summer insects.
"I don't know if you know how lucky we are to have a stream like Montana Creek," said resident Ellen Pavitt.
Besides the wildlife, there are worries of new homes flooding as Montana Creek often extends beyond its banks. About 20 acres of the land are considered Class A wetlands.
Class A wetlands are protected, but some development is permitted if careful steps are taken.
The ordinance spells out that there should not be any development in areas where wetlands and flood plains coincide.