“Field of Fireweed” to stay a field for now

Tina Brown, Alaska Wildlife Alliance. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.
Tina Brown, Alaska Wildlife Alliance. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Juneau wildlife enthusiasts got their wish Tuesday as the city Planning Commission opted not to take another look at a proposal to rezone a privately owned 82-acre field that’s a popular spot for birders.

About three dozen members of the public packed the Assembly Chambers to see if the Planning Commission would put the rezone request back on the table. Many consider the field owned by Bicknell, Inc. to be an extension of the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

On a 5-2 vote last month, the commission denied Bicknell’s request to allow a mix of commercial, industrial, and light development on the property just southwest of Juneau International Airport.

Tina Brown, president of the local Alaska Wildlife Alliance chapter, says the commission made the right decision.

“We’re very pleased that the Planning Commission has held strong in support of community values, of habitat, of protection of the wetlands,” Brown said.

As it’s currently zoned only small development is allowed on Bicknell’s property, though part of it used to be a gravel pit now commonly known as Honsinger Pond.

Planning Commissioner Dennis Watson urged his fellow members to reconsider the decision to deny the company’s rezone request.

“The search for buildable lands conducted in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan identified very little potential industrial lands suitable for development in the short term,” Watson said. “Lands found to be suitable for development in the near future include current and former gravel extraction areas.”

Four members of the commission did not take part in the vote on Watson’s motion to reconsider. Commissioner Dan Miller had a conflict of interest, while Bill Peters, Gordon Jackson, and Paul Voelckers were appointed to the commission after the vote denying the rezone took place, so the city attorney advised them not to vote.

Of the members left only Ben Haight voted with Watson. Karen Lawfer, Nicole Grewe, and chair Mike Satre voted no. Grewe said the rezone proposal had already been thoroughly considered.

“This body has heard this particular application in some way, shape or form three times prior,” she said. “We’ve deliberated on it, we’ve taken public comment, we’ve studied it, we’ve read the in depth packets prepared by the planners, and our end result has consistently remained the same.”

After his request failed, Watson made a motion to rescind the commission’s vote denying the rezone. But Assistant City Attorney Robert Palmer said that was not allowed under the commission’s rules of procedure.

Bicknell could appeal the Planning Commission’s recommendation to the Juneau Assembly. But the wildlife alliance’s Brown says the company has other options.

“At one of the Planning Commission meetings, if not more than one, it was suggested that the city trade some land with Mr. Bicknell, which hopefully would work out equitably for everyone,” Brown suggested. “There are also groups who are interested in purchasing the land at a fair market value, and there are others who would be willing to help raise money to support that effort.”

Dan Bruce, an attorney for Bicknell, declined to comment, saying there are still a lot of issues to be resolved.

Those seeking to prevent the property from being rezoned have dubbed it the “Field of Fireweed” for the brightly colored plant that grows there during the summer. At Tuesday’s meeting many of them wore postcards with a picture of the field on it pinned to their clothing.

Related stories:
Honsinger Pond property subject of Planning Commission appeal

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