After nearly three years, the Juneau Assembly has granted a local developer’s wish to use his lot in a mostly residential Mendenhall Valley neighborhood for commercial purposes.
In a split 5-4 decision, assembly members last night approved Richard Harris’ request to have his 2-acre parcel on Atlin Drive rezoned from residential to light commercial. The change contradicts the recommendations of the Juneau Planning Commission, which had voted three separate times since 2011 to deny Harris’ rezone requests. It also goes against the desires of several nearby homeowners, who say commercial activity does not belong in their neighborhood.
But Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis, who served as presiding officer for Harris’ latest appeal, says allowing commercial activity on the property makes sense, because it’s near the busy intersection with Mendenhall Loop Road.
“We were looking at the maps and looking at what we thought was appropriate to do, and this group – the majority of this group – thought that that was appropriate to do that,” Nankervis said.
He says assembly members who voted for the zone change also felt it would allow for higher density housing to be developed.
The four members who voted against the change were Jesse Kiehl, Karen Crane, Loren Jones, and Kate Troll. They wrote a dissenting opinion to the decision issued by their colleagues.
Kiehl says the housing argument cited in the majority opinion doesn’t hold water, because Harris has said he would build fewer units under commercial zoning than under residential. Besides that, Kiehl says the decision completely discounts the work of the planning commission.
“Medium density residential has different uses than light commercial,” said Kiehl. “And the planning commission analyzed that thoroughly. They looked to the laws the assembly has passed and the plans the assembly has adopted. They made a very strong decision. It was not close.”
Harris has not said what he plans to build on the property other than that it would be good for some sort of mixed-use housing and commercial development. Under light commercial zoning he’ll be allowed to build anything from retail shops to a bar to used car lots.
Opponents of the rezone have 30 days to appeal the assembly’s decision in Juneau Superior Court.
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