Juneau Assembly debates parking or housing for downtown lot

North Franklin Street parking lot

The Juneau Assembly is considering a proposal to sell the North Franklin Street parking lot to a group of local investors who want to build a 29-unit apartment complex with ground floor retail space on the property. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly has authorized the CBJ Lands Department to negotiate terms of sale for a city-owned parking lot to a group of local investors.

Juneau Legacy Properties wants to turn the North Franklin lot across the street from the Baranof Hotel into an apartment complex for seasonal workers.

The group’s proposal is forcing the assembly to consider if the city needs more parking or housing downtown.

Juneau Legacy Properties submitted the only proposal for the North Franklin lot during a month-long solicitation that ended in early May. In a report to the assembly last Monday, City Lands Director Greg Chaney described the group’s plan as mixed-use.

“Twenty-nine units of workforce housing, 990-square foot commercial space and 22 parking spaces on the ground floor,” Chaney said.

The building would include six two-bedroom apartments, 15 one-bedroom apartments and eight efficiency units. Chaney said parking would be for apartment residents only. The 25 public spaces on the lot now would be displaced.

Baranof Hotel Manager Steve Hamilton urged members of the assembly’s Lands Committee to keep the parking lot, according to minutes from the panel’s June 2nd meeting. Hamilton said the lot is used by hotel guests and employees.

Parking is also a big concern for some assembly members.

I know a lot of small businesses and people downtown who use those spaces,” said Assemblywoman Karen Crane. “So I’m having a real problem with the parking.”

Mayor Merrill Sanford said Juneau Legacy Properties’ plan doesn’t do enough to address the city’s housing shortage. Chaney said the lot can support up to 60 units − more than twice what the group proposed. Sanford wondered if there was a way for the city to facilitate a larger development.

“Doing 29 apartments and one floor or two floors of parking, we’ve kind of lost out on the ability of what that lot can provide for us,” Sanford said.

The assembly directed Chaney to get a more detailed proposal from the group, and at a minimum draw up terms of sale for what they’ve already submitted. The proposal would have to go through the Planning Commission then back to the assembly for final approval.

Juneau Legacy Properties partner Steve Soenksen says financial considerations played into the group’s decision to propose a smaller building.

“We wanted to keep the proposal small and doable,” Soenksen said. “So once you get above a three-story building, it goes into a different building type. We’d have a steel-framed structure most likely, instead of wood frame.”

The city bought the property in 2003 when it held an office building and 11-unit apartment complex.

Soenksen believes housing makes more sense for the lot than parking.

Our first goal is to try and help replace some of the housing that’s gone out of service in the last 20 years,” Soenksen said. “And this is designed to address the needs of people that want to live and work downtown.”

The Juneau Legacy Properties partnership also includes Jill Ramiel and Ken Alper, owners of the Silverbow Inn, as well as Evelyn Rousso. Both Soenksen and Rousso are architects.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl has considered joining the partnership. He’s recused himself from assembly discussions about selling the property.

An appraisal of the lot paid for by the city says it’s worth $530,000. City code requires municipal land be sold at fair market value. Soenksen says the appraisal gives both sides a good starting price.

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