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North Douglas rezoning efforts questioned by area neighbors

Posted: Sunday, December 20, 2009

Part of the city's plan for increasing affordable housing is increasing density in some of the areas served by its water, sewer and road systems. But neighbors of a 90-acre area recently rezoned in North Douglas are concerned about potential risks: a possible decrease in their property value and increases in traffic, pollution and water runoff, as well as adverse effects on wildlife and area atmosphere.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Planning Commission changed two sites totaling around 90 acres from D-3 to D-18 zoning.

D-3 zoning is primarily for areas located outside the "urban service boundary" (outside infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer) and is intended to accommodate single-family and duplex residential development at a density of three units per acre. D-18 zoning is intended for multi-family "midrise-type development" at a maximum of 18 units per acre, according to the city.

Those sites were zoned as transitional to D-18 back in 2008, meaning as soon as sewerage was complete they could be rezoned. That sewerage was completed in the fall.

Also at that meeting, thecommission changed one four-acre lot to D-10 and referred two more sites totaling about 27 acres to the planning commission's subdivision committee, which will consider the application. Those sites will then be again discussed by the planning commission and then will go to the Juneau Assembly, said City Planner Beth McKibben.

Residents expressed concerns in written comments prior to the meeting, as well as during the public comment session of the meeting itself.

In written comments prior to the meeting, Heather and Kirk Hardcastle urged the commission to consider the "wild nature" of the land, saying they see bald eagles, ravens, songbirds, porcupines, black bears and deer. They also said they were concerned about a loss of property value, a concern others shared.

"My main concern is partly it will lower my property value," said nearby resident Phillip Gray after the meeting. "Nobody wants to move next to a major housing development. ... The traffic alone is going to be a horrendous problem."

Many neighbors cited concerns about traffic, particularly at the roundabout, which they said backs up during morning rush hour. A traffic impact analysis commissioned by the city said level of service and capacity will be "negatively impacted" by development along North Douglas Highway.

"As development occurs over time, capacity improvements will eventually be required to meet minimum traffic standards," it said.

Bob Doll, the Assembly's liaison to the planning commission, brought those concerns up at a recent Assembly meeting.

Walsh Planning and Development Services, which submitted an application for the zoning change on behalf of property owners, noted any development would happen over time, because of Juneau's own slow rate of growth, and said the lots could not be built out to the maximum allowable amount because of their topography.

The maximum total number of units (not people) for those five lots would be 1,187, the application said.

In its July 2008 application for the zoning change, Square Knot Development, which owns the four-acre lot zoned now as D-10, said the public advantage for the change is "obvious" and would be "in the interest of ... forwarding the community's goal of creating more affordable housing."

The housing, it said, would be "moderately priced" and available to a variety of home-buyers, including young couples, single parents, empty-nesters and young professionals.

Walsh Planning and Development Services said in its request that "there is a fair bit of pressure for the most density because higher density would enable more affordable housing."

McKibben noted that the housing may not necessarily be affordable, however. "The city plans talk about more affordable housing, but there's not a guarantee the housing built there will necessarily be affordable," she said. "Proximity to downtown and the work center is right there... At some point along the line it was decided that's where they wanted to increase density."

"We've been here for 30 years. Most of the houses have been here for a long, long time," Gray said. "Single housing is no problem, but when you start getting into big development, it starts changing the atmosphere of things. We sure like it the way it is."

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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