Group forms to oppose proposed Auke Bay roundabout

A group called “Friends of Auke Bay” is fighting a state road project to build a roundabout in the small commercial district north of Juneau. Group members say the project would make the area less livable, and destroy DeHart’s – a popular roadside convenience store and gas station in the heart of Auke Bay.

KTOO’s Casey Kelly reports.

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DeHart's Auke Bay Store. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

“Friends of Auke Bay” organizer Karla Hart this week presented about 500 signatures to the Juneau Planning Commission urging the city and state to reconsider the planned roundabout in front of DeHart’s.

The small grocery store and gas station sits at the intersection of Glacier Highway and Mendenhall Loop Road, overlooking Auke Bay. Built in the 1940s, it pre-dates most modern development in the area. Hart thinks other businesses in the Auke Bay commercial district could be threatened by the project.

“Auke Bay is still an incredible neighborhood. It has a lot of locally owned businesses, small businesses that are owner-operated. And we risk losing that,” Hart said.

“Friends of Auke Bay” jumped the gun a bit by going to the Planning Commission this week. While commissioners listened to the group’s presentation, the state won’t seek local permits until later this year at the earliest.

However, the state’s public comment period on final design drawings is open through this Saturday, and DOT Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the petition will be taken into consideration.

“Definitely. That’s why we have a public comment period,” says Woodrow. “So we can take these type of items into consideration before the final plan is put forth.”

Woodrow says the state prefers to buy DeHart’s, and build a roundabout that would require demolition of the store. But that’s not the only option. DOT could build a smaller traffic circle that would allow the store to remain in place. The main difference between the two is the number of entry and exit points. The larger version includes a fork into and out of the Statter Harbor parking lot.

But Woodrow says safety is the major reason DOT prefers the larger roundabout. He says the department’s data shows 17 vehicle accidents at the Glacier Highway-Loop Road intersection between 2005 and 2009 – nearly twice the average for the amount of traffic.

“The larger roundabout will improve vehicle traffic and actually it improves pedestrian safety as well, because it allows the roundabout to be more leveled out. It allows better viewing throughout the area,” he says. “That’s not saying the smaller one won’t work. However, if we can get the preferred option in there DOT would like to explore that route first.”

The smaller roundabout proposal calls for a 12-foot retaining wall adjacent to DeHart’s. The wall would remove one of two driveways at the front of the store, as well as a delivery driveway at the rear. DeHart’s co-owner and manager Dan Hickock says it would effectively put the store out of business.

“They’re limiting our access to the store,” says Hickock. “It would not be a convenient convenience store.”

Woodrow says state engineers don’t believe the smaller design would limit access to the store.

Hickock says the state has yet to make him an offer for the property. Even if it did, he’s not sure he’s willing to sell.

“We’ve only been running the store for four and a half years. And we didn’t get in this business so we could just sell it out to the state. We’re in it for the long run,” Hickock says. “We’ve got family here and kids go to school here, and to actually put a price on something like that is kind of a difficult situation.”

DOT’s Woodrow says a decision won’t be made on the roundabout until this fall at the earliest. The traffic circle is part of a larger project to make safety improvements to Glacier Highway from Fritz Cove Road to Seaview Avenue.

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