Atlin Drive rezone denied again

This is the third time the Planning Commission has reviewed a zoning request for this property.

This is the third time the Planning Commission has reviewed a zoning request for this property. (Photo by Greg Culley)

For the third time a Juneau contractor has lost his bid to rezone a residential lot so he can build a commercial development in the Mendenhall Valley.

The Planning Commission Tuesday night denied the zone change request, but developer Richard Harris could appeal to the Juneau Assembly.

Three years ago, Harris was the sole bidder on two acres of Forest Service land at the corner of Atlin Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road.  The woods and old World War II Quonset huts were a buffer between the noisy Loop Road with heavy traffic and a quiet neighborhood.

Tim Banazak lives in that neighborhood and has testified before the Planning Commission several times on the issue.

“On that auction it was very clear, not in fine print, that the property description clearly stated that it  was zoned residential D-10, residential use, with a minimum of 6,000 square foot lot sizes with 10 units per lot.”

It didn’t take long for Harris to request a zone change.  In 2011, he asked the Planning Commission to designate the parcel light commercial.  But commissioners said commercial development was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan for that area.

Harris appealed to the Juneau Assembly.  He got his zone change – briefly.  The city attorney found the action illegal and the Assembly had to rescind the decision.

With the lot still classified as residential, Harris in 2012 applied and received a CBJ Conditional Use Permit to build 22 units.

Then he sought a Comprehensive Plan Amendment –not something individuals are likely to be granted.

So he asked the Planning Commission again to rezone the small lot  to light commercial. With Duck Creek running through it,  Harris says it’s even less practical for medium density housing.

 “If you take 2.16 acres and remove about 40 percent of it you’ll have what’s useable.”

Since Harris bought the property, the neighbors have been asking what he plans to build.  He’s never had an answer.  Light commercial would allow everything from offices to restaurants, auto shops, retail stores as well as housing.

Zoning on the opposite side of Mendenhall Loop Road allows commercial development, and there’s lots of it.  The Atlin Drive side is nearly all residential from St. Paul’s Catholic Church to the Mendenhall Glacier at the end of the road.

Linda Wild told planning commission members that Harris picked the wrong site for light commercial.

“Allowing light commercial, to me, leaves open too many potential deleterious possibilities.”

And that was the problem most planning commissioners had with the proposal.

Nathan Bishop said Juneau’s updated Comprehensive Plan clearly defines the character of the area, which is medium residential with 5 to 20 housing units per acre.  Light commercial allows 30 units to an acre.

If the Planning Commission approved the change, Bishop said, it would allow any commercial use that’s permissible in the zone.

“Whether it be a junkyard, whether it be an automobile repair facility.  We’re saying we believe that any light use commercial is allowed in this particular district and I can’t go there.”

Only one member of the Planning Commission, Dennis Watson, voted for the zone change.  Five other members voted no; three were absent.

After the vote Harris said he had revealed the best plan he’s got:

 “Mixed use residential commercial.  It’s what the city is screamin’ for, it’s what the community is screamin’ for, we just told them we were going to build it and it still didn’t go through.”

So what type of commercial development could Atlin Drive and Teslin Street residents expect at the entrance to their neighborhood?

“You’re not going to pay engineers to design something and then never get it approved; it’s just a waste of money and time. So once we get a zoning then we can come up with a project a little more defined.”

Harris said he expects to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the Juneau Assembly.