Assembly to hold off on stream buffer changes

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Juneau Assembly members on Monday unanimously decided not to include changes to stream-buffer rules in an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan, deciding instead to tackle the issue later.

City Community Development Director Dale Pernula suggested the Assembly remove language that specified requested changes in the code governing development near streams and lakes. Instead, the comprehensive plan amendment would direct the city to "consider" making changes.

"It makes sense when you have a general comprehensive plan to be not as specific as you would be in an ordinance," Pernula said at a work session. "If the Planning Commission deems it important to change the actual ordinance, then an ordinance would be put up for public hearing and if they passed it, it would be forwarded to the Assembly. But that's a more appropriate place to be debating a more specific standard."

The Juneau Planning Commission had proposed an amendment to the comprehensive plan that would increase the no-disturbance zone next to streams and lakes from 25 to 33 feet to improve water quality and habitat. At the same time, the changes would allow some exceptions to what would and wouldn't be allowed near a stream or lake. The city's 50-foot stream setback wouldn't change.

As an example, the proposal would allow fences, swing sets and gardens within the stream setback, but outside of the no disturbance zone. Parking spaces, decks and roof overhangs wouldn't be allowed in a stream setback.

Property owners with an existing development in a stream setback wouldn't be affected by the proposal.

Even with a comprehensive plan amendment, the city would need to change the city's land use code for the measures to take effect, staff members have said.

City planner Teri Camery said the stream-buffer changes would benefit water quality and give property owners and city staff more flexibility.

"There's a 25-foot no-disturbance zone. Period. There's a 50-foot setback. Period," she said. "Staff now doesn't have any leeway. Right now the only recourse is to apply for a variance."

But Assembly member Dale Anderson expressed concern about the cost of the changes. He hasn't been provided with information about how much property would be affected and the possibility of tax incentives, he said.

The steam-buffer proposal, along with three other amendments to the comprehensive plan, have been in front of the Assembly since March. The Planning Commission finished its work on the changes in summer 2000.

The Assembly has agreed to amendments that would extend the city's urban service boundary to include the Bonnie Brae subdivision and call on the city to develop a storm water management program. In general, the city provides water, sewer and storm water drainage within the urban service boundary.

A proposal to change park designations along the Montana Creek corridor remains under review.

All four measures will need final approval at a regular Assembly meeting.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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