Assembly repeals Atlin Drive zone change

The Juneau Assembly has repealed a controversial zone change on a small parcel of residential land in the Mendenhall Valley.

The Assembly last month overrode the Planning Commission and CBJ Community Development staff and zoned the area light commercial. Then the city attorney said it was illegal.

The heavily wooded corner of Atlin Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road was previously owned by the U.S. Forest Service. While the parcel is 2.68 acres, it’s also wetlands, reducing the usable land by 40 percent.

Developer Richard Harris and consultant Murray Walsh have been seeking the zone change since January. They weren’t successful until August, when they appealed a Planning Commission decision to the Assembly.

City attorney John Hartle said the zone change violates the city’s land-use code, but the developer’s attorney reads it differently. Walsh told the Assembly Monday night the turn of events was “horribly demoralizing.”

“I understand the yearning for clarity in these things. It would be a good idea to change the code so that we’re not faced with this kind of thing again,” Walsh said. “This has gone on eight months. Lots of emotion, lots of trial. And I just think that the assembly should stick with the decision it’s made, give us what we asked for, and give us a chance to earn our way into something the whole community will be proud of.”

The entire Atlin Drive neighborhood, including Saint Paul’s Catholic Church, has been against the zone change, primarily because Harris has no plan for the corner. He has said he just wants the flexibility that commercial zoning would give.

Linda Wild has testified several times on the issue. She told the Assembly it was time to get beyond dueling attorneys and emotional reactions and focus on a common goal – quality use and development of the property that’s compatible with the neighborhood.

“Mr. Harris would be well advised to remain in dialogue with the neighborhood to garner their support for a specific project rather than the ‘trust me’ of a blanket light commercial designation,” Wild said. “I’d sure hate to see 48 housing units or a Denny’s on that little corner.”

All but one Assembly member – Johan Dybdahl — voted to repeal their action. The corner remains medium density residential.