Juneau Assembly hears latest Atlin rezone appeal

The Atlin Drive property developer Richard Harris wants rezoned from residential to light commercial. Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO.
The Atlin Drive property developer Richard Harris wants rezoned from residential to light commercial. Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO.

Developer Richard Harris was back before the Juneau Assembly on Monday asking the panel to rezone a property he owns in the Mendenhall Valley.

Three times Harris has been to the Juneau Planning Commission asking for the two-acre parcel at the corner of Atlin Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road to be zoned light commercial, rather than its current medium density residential. And three times the Planning Commission has rejected Harris’ request, citing the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

After one of those attempts, the Assembly reversed the commission’s decision – but only temporarily. The action was rescinded when the city attorney found it illegal.

The Assembly heard Harris’ latest appeal at a hearing Monday night, where the developer argued the Comprehensive Plan actually supports his request.

“It’s just hard to believe that anybody could look at this site and say, you know, that’s probably better residential than commercial,” Harris said. “Just look at the site, the project, what it is, where it is, and say, it looks like commercial. Most people can’t believe it’s not commercial.”

Harris bought the property from the U.S. Forest Service more than three years ago. It’s currently occupied by a stand of trees and an old World War II Quonset hut. Duck Creek runs through the parcel.

Neighbors along Atlin Drive and nearby Teslin Street have opposed the switch to light commercial over fears of what kind of development would be allowed under that zoning.

Harris has not proposed a specific project, other than to say he wants it to be mixed use. Some mixed use is allowed with a conditional use permit under the current residential zoning, but he says it’s not enough for what he wants to build there.

Senior City Planner Beth McKibben told the Assembly that the Planning Commission’s decision to reject the rezone was based on her analysis of the most compatible uses for the area, according to the Comprehensive Plan.

“The staff analysis was that light commercial is not consistent with medium density residential and the Planning Commission agreed,” said McKibben. “But Mr. Harris’ interpretation is different.”

The Assembly listened to arguments from both Harris and McKibben for about an hour before its regular meeting. Members went into closed door deliberations after the meeting. The Assembly has 45 days from the date of the hearing to issue a proposed decision in the case.

Assembly unanimously passes ordinances

The Juneau Assembly last night (Monday) voted unanimously to amend the city’s disturbing the peace code.

The ordinance clarified the intent of the law – to prohibit “unreasonable noise.” – and defined what constitutes an unreasonable noise.

Assembly member Kate Troll sought to clarify it even further. She acknowledged that some people have criticized the city’s noise law for not specifically mentioning common problems, such as fireworks. But Troll argued the ordinance can be applied to fireworks under certain circumstances.

“While this amendment does not specifically address the use of fireworks, I believe it does adequately protect our residents by making it a citable offense to create an unreasonable noise disturbance, which would include the use of fireworks in residential neighborhoods, except during those times of the year, such as July 4th, that most people would find the noise acceptable,” Troll said.

There was no public comment on the noise ordinance during the meeting, but the Assembly did receive three comments by email.

The Assembly also passed an ordinance creating a separate Human Resources and Risk Management Department. Previously HR had been a division within the city manager’s office. The move comes as the department takes on an expanded role, offering more services to the city-owned Bartlett Regional Hospital as well as the Juneau School District.

The Assembly also transferred $150,000 to the Last Chance Basin well field rehabilitation project. The money was from the city’s Water Utility fund balance. The transfer makes a total of $300,000 available for design work on the project, which aims to make improvements to the aging Last Chance Basin well system.

The basin is Juneau’s primary source of drinking water. The city has had trouble meeting peak summer demand in recent years, especially on heavy cruise ship traffic days. The Assembly in November approved funding part of the project with cruise ship passenger fees.

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