Empire editorial: City should enforce its own regulations

Posted: Friday, December 07, 2007

Why would a construction company bother to follow Juneau's land use code?

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There are so many reasons not to. Expense, inconvenience, ignorance of the fine print. Sure, those are some weak excuses, but it doesn't seem to matter.

Secon, a construction contractor, built a $70,000 truck scale too close to Lemon Creek and operated it without proper permits this year. When the matter was discovered, the Juneau Board of Adjustment responded with what might be the year's least impressive action. The board granted an "after the fact" variance.

Juneau resident Dixie Hood recently appealed the variance before the Juneau Assembly, and she should be commended for her activism. But we shouldn't have to rely on our residents to police construction sites.

The city should enforce its own rules. It should do so for the long-term good and as a matter of principle. It should do so to avoid being a patsy and facilitating abuse. It should enforce its own rules to discourage future rule-breaking.

Is the city's code dense and inscrutable? If so, it should be simplified or reduced - anything to promote enforcement.

The scale in question was built in conjunction with the ongoing $27.5 million Sunny Point Intersection Project on Egan Drive, a huge project that's important to the community. But the scale's placement within 50 feet of Lemon Creek violated city rules intended to protect fish streams.

Recently, City Planner Greg Chaney said Secon's filing for the variance actually helped the area because it led to upgrades, such as planting trees and addressing run-off. At a November meeting in which Hood appealed the variance, Chaney even ventured to call the scale "one of the best buffered sites on Lemon Creek right now."

How nice. How responsible of the city and company to try to make amends. How appropriate.

So why is reconciliation so troubling?

It's because the city set a water-muddying precedent. Here's a loud and shame-faced message for local construction companies: Do whatever you want. We'll work it out. We won't hold you to our rules, but we might make you plant a few trees or put up a plastic fence when you're done.

It begs the question: Why would a construction company bother following the land use code?

John Logsdon, operations manager for Secon, said the city's required 50-foot setback from streams is important and the company did not intentionally build within 50 feet of the creek. The company didn't try to hide anything, he said.

We're glad to hear that the company's violations were unintentional.

But it's upsetting to think that the city's "after the fact" approval was fully intentional.

We're granting an "after the fact" variance on our regard for the city.

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