Assembly cancels Valley land purchase

City continues to look for spot for library

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

The Juneau Assembly on Monday de-appropriated funds to purchase land from Faith Lutheran Church, but the debate might not be over.

In a 5-4 vote, the Assembly decided to return $430,000 to the city's lands fund. The funding earlier was set aside to purchase 2.6 acres of land off Del Rae Road near Egan Drive from Faith Lutheran and a private landowner for a library or other public purpose.

Assembly members Ken Koelsch, Randy Wanamaker, Dale Anderson, Don Etheridge and Jeannie Johnson supported the motion. Frankie Pillifant, Jim Powell, Marc Wheeler and Mayor Sally Smith voted no.

A compromise amendment to purchase the land over time failed. Wheeler gave notice of reconsideration at the end of the meeting.

"We're still looking at where to put the library and I thought maybe we'd have some more information by the next meeting," he said.

Wheeler said combining a library with a recreation center, one idea being floated, might be too big a pill for voters to swallow. He suggested the Faith Lutheran land could be used for a park or community garden, if not a library.

Anderson said a decision to de-appropriate the funding was a good one and wasn't meant to limit library programs. Later in the meeting, he objected to the reconsideration notice.

"I feel it's my responsibility to the people of this community to spend their money wisely," he said today. "And five Assembly members understand that purchasing land is not a good use of resources. It's not a good use of time and money to continue revisiting this issue."

The library land issue has come up at Assembly meetings many times in the past two months. Although the Assembly originally approved the land purchase on Oct. 1, an election and two new members helped swing the vote the other way.

Pillifant said it was a shame the issue has carried over two assemblies. The old Assembly had made a good-faith effort to purchase the land, she said.

"We did make a decision and it's gotten really messed up, in my opinion," she said.

New Assembly member Johnson said she has been heartened by the discussion about the library and land options. While she said she isn't against libraries, she spoke against buying the Faith Lutheran land.

"Right now we're speculating what we could use the property for," she said.

Mayor Smith said the main issue is whether the city should buy the land and hold it for a Mendenhall Valley project or not. The library has gotten lost in the shuffle, she said.

"Every person who is in a policy-making position has a right under the rules to exhaust every possible avenue," she said, referring to the notice of reconsideration. "That is part of the public process. Unfortunately, exercising that right divides people and then the main issue is lost, which is really unfortunate."

In November, Assembly members directed staff to see if a library could be combined with a proposed recreation center planned for city-owned land at Dimond Park.

Earl Clark, a former professor of children's literature, asked why the Assembly was committed to building in a congested area such as Dimond Park, where a high school and swimming pool are planned.

"I'm speaking for the Assembly to reconsider buying Faith Lutheran as a perfect facility for a beautifully-designed building to represent the community," he said. "A library underneath a gym or on top of a gym just isn't as aesthetically pleasing as having a gem of a building."

Library user Mary Lou Spartz said libraries downtown and in Douglas don't have room to grow. She asked the Assembly to put a Valley library in a place where it can expand, adding that a library doesn't belong with a gym and a swimming pool.

"Libraries grow. You can't take one book off the shelf because you bought a new one," she said. "I don't think the third library should be restricted one more time."

During a discussion last month, Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said combining a library with a recreation center at Dimond Park appears to be feasible, based on an initial review. The Dimond Park complex has room for expansion, she said.

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