Juneau’s planning commission has approved the Douglas Indian Association’s request to build a cultural learning center in South Douglas.
The single-story building will overlook Sandy Beach, the site of the former Douglas Indian Village, which Douglas’ city government burned in 1962. It will also overlook Mayflower Island, a traditional subsistence site now owned by the federal government. Classes will focus on Lingít language and food sovereignty.
“The goal is to actually have a sense of belonging within the community that we do not currently have,” Dionne Cadiente-Laiti, the association’s education director, told the planning commission on Tuesday.
Seven nearby homeowners spoke at the meeting. Most said they were concerned about more traffic near the site, which is close to one of the trailheads into the site of the Treadwell Mine.
“It has been out of sheer concern for the safety of the residents, children, pets, daycare facilities that the neighborhood has always been overwhelmingly opposed to adding traffic and congestion,” South Douglas resident Erica Simpson told the commission. “The construction alone will be a significant and dangerous burden to the residents of the neighborhood.”
Others said the Douglas Indian Association should build the center somewhere else, like on a property they own on North Douglas. But Sean Boily, an architect working on the project, said the North Douglas property’s zoning wouldn’t allow for a learning center. He also pointed out that the South Douglas location is culturally significant.
“There’s a deeper vein than just buying a piece of property and developing it here,” he said. “It has a lot to do with the history of our community that we, and they, don’t want to see forgotten.”
Other residents said they were worried about noise and hours of operation at the center. Cadiente-Laiti said most of the classes would be fairly quiet.
“Our song and dance sessions do not usually go longer than an hour,” she said. “And they’re certainly not daily activities, because we’re conscientious of our high schoolers’ schedule.”
Some commissioners said they shared the neighbors’ concerns about traffic safety.
“I’m in support of the project itself,” Commissioner Adam Brown said. “I just don’t think it’s the right property to put it on.”
Commissioner Mathew Bell spoke in favor.
“In listening to my fellow commissioners, it’s difficult to sit here and listen to what all is being said when we see the value of this project,” he said. “Yes, it’s a very congested, difficult area, but this is Douglas Indian Association’s land. This was where their village was burnt.”
The commission approved the request in a 5-3 vote.
They denied the Douglas Indian Association’s request to put angled parking spots along the front of the site, where drivers would back out directly onto St. Ann’s Avenue. Instead, they’ll have to put six parking spots on the site itself.
Boily said they hope to start site preparation work this year and begin construction in spring. They hope to finish construction in early 2025.