Juneau affordable housing project challenges city’s permit denial

The Glory Hall homeless shelter in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)
The Glory Hall homeless shelter in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

An affordable housing project in Juneau has been stalled by decades-old hazard maps and city permit woes.

The Glory Hall runs Juneau’s homeless shelter and plans to convert its former building into seven housing units downtown. The city denied construction permits for the job because it says the renovation would increase density in an avalanche hazard zone.

Mary Alice McKeen is an attorney representing the non-profit group in its appeal. She says the city’s density argument hinges on the number of units rather than the number of people.

“This is an irrational, arbitrary and unreasonable basis to deny a building permit for this project. It doesn’t show it increases density because the prior use was one large dwelling with a lot of people,” she said.

The building housed around 50 people a night as a shelter. As apartments, it will house up to 14 people.

The city’s development department refused to comment while the permits are in the appeals process.

“It’s really a black-and-white issue to me. Juneau has a housing  crisis, and we’re trying to add more housing units. And it’s critical; every single unit counts,” said Mariya Lovischuk, The Glory Hall’s executive director.

She says people across the socioeconomic spectrum need housing in Juneau.

“I personally know people who are moving out of this community because they can’t find housing,” Lovischuk said. “And I know people who are not moving into this community because they can’t find housing. Healthy communities just need a healthy housing stock. ”

The city has acknowledged housing as a top priority in its comprehensive plan. McKeen says that’s legally relevant because the city’s development department can choose to interpret city ordinance in favor of housing.

The planning commission will hear The Glory Hall’s appeal next Tuesday, May 24 at 7 pm in Assembly chambers.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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