Atlin rezone illegal, city attorney says

The recent rezoning of a parcel of land at the corner of Atlin Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road is illegal, according to Juneau’s city attorney.

Earlier this month the Juneau Assembly changed the two-plus acres from residential to light commercial — against the recommendation of area neighbors, CBJ Community Development staff and the Planning Commission. And when Assemblyman Peter Freer brought up the zone change for reconsideration last week, it failed.

City Attorney John Hartle was out of town when the issue first came before the Assembly. He has since analyzed the arguments pro and con.

“Continuing with that rezoning would likely result in litigation. And a safer course would be to undo it and try again,” Hartle says.

He says he was persuaded the rezoning needed more study when he read a letter from neighborhood resident Chuck Cohen who argued the city’s own zoning laws made the change illegal.

“Chuck Cohen, happens to be a lawyer, made a legal argument that the proposed rezoning would violate CBJ 49.75.120 which is entitled Restrictions on Rezonings,” says Hartle.

Cohen argued that zoning has an importance beyond the individual landowner and gives predictability to the community, the developers and the neighbors.

The land is owned by Developer Richard Harris of RH Development.

Harris applied to change the area from residential to light commercial in January. Since then Atlin Drive and Teslin Street residents have put a lot of time into fighting it, concerned because Harris has never developed a plan for the property.

And there still is none, says consultant Murray Walsh.

“As we have said steadfastly throughout, there is no plan,” Walsh says.

A former CBJ Community Development Director, Walsh helps developers through the government morass.

“Typically you look at a piece of land for what you think might be the best thing for it and if the zoning is right then you go out and solicit development ideas,” Walsh says. “But if you think the zoning is wrong, then you fix the zoning before you spend money trying to generate or solicit development ideas.”

Assembly members voting for the zone change agreed with Walsh that Harris should have a lot of flexibility in determining what’s appropriate for the parcel – 40 percent of which is unusable due to a stream and wetlands.

But now they will have to come up with another plan, says city attorney Hartle.

The Assembly holds a special meeting tonight (Monday) to introduce an ordinance repealing the Atlin Drive zone change. The ordinance will come up for a vote at a September Assembly meeting.

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