The City and Borough of Juneau’s Planning Commission may have decided the first neighborhood appeal related to a group home for women leaving prison.
The result of Tuesday evening’s hearing won’t be announced until later, and it likely will not be the end of the process.
Haven House plans to use a home on Malissa Drive for as many as nine women, but neighbors have objected to possible traffic and safety issues associated with establishing a group home in a residential area.
In January, CBJ Community Development Director Hal Hart issued an opinion saying that Haven House would likely fit under the definition of a halfway house and could not operate in the neighborhood’s residential zoning.
Haven House representatives initiated an appeal of that decision. Then in March, Hart decided the facility would likely fit under the definition of “use-not-listed” compatible with the neighborhood’s D5 residential zoning as a rooming house or boarding house, instead of as a halfway house. That could allow the organization to pursue a possible conditional use permit.
The issue before the Planning Commission was simply whether Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association could appeal Hart’s latest decision. Was the neighborhood association an aggrieved party that was adversely affected by the decision? And did the group have standing, or a right to appeal?
CBJ attorney Robert Palmer says no. Tall Timbers was premature because no permit has been issued and no one has been injured yet. In addition, the association filed its appeal before their corporate bylaws were adopted.
“Right now, Haven House cannot operate as intended,” Palmer said. “They can only operate if they were given a permit by this body for a use-not-listed or a conditional use permit. At that time, that is when the neighborhood – if a permit was issued – would meet the aggrieved party or the adversity standard to then have standing to appeal.”
Attorney Mary Alice McKeen, representing Haven House, said they welcomed all public comment at the proper stage in the proceedings, such as during the Planning Commission’s consideration of a conditional use permit. McKeen suggested that the neighborhood association’s proposed appeal of the development director’s decision was a delaying tactic that could effectively kill the project. She called for a public hearing on the use-not-listed determination as soon as possible.
“We really want to start this project because we believe that there are women coming out of prison who need this type of housing,” McKeen said.
“There is no disagreement that nine women coming out of prison could rent this home and live in it because the definition of a family is people – one or more persons – living together.”
Attorney Robert Spitzfaden, representing the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association, repeatedly said during his main arguments earlier in the meeting that the public should just have a chance to provide input. He had a more forceful and focused rebuttal after McKeen’s comments.
“This is all after-the-fact rationalization when they realize what they’ve done,” Spitzfaden said. “They prevented the public’s input in this particular decision: The decision that says ‘Yes, you have an ability to get a permit.’ That is a final decision. It changed the nature of this whole proceeding.
“Haven House was finished in January. They had absolutely no way to get a permit. And now they do, according to the director’s decision.”
After an hour of arguments, Planning Commission Chairman Mike Satre asked those observing the arguments in the Assembly chambers to leave the room so that commissioners could deliberate in private in executive session. A decision will be issued publicly at some undetermined, later date. Commissioner Nicole Grewe acted as hearing officer in the case.