Assembly accepts appeal of new cruise ship dock permit, assigns hearing officerThis rendering depicts Huna Totem Corp.’s proposed new cruise ship dock downtown that was approved for a conditional-use permit by the City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission in early July. The project has since been appealed and following Assembly action Monday night will now be assigned to a hearing officer. (City and Borough of Juneau)

Assembly accepts appeal of new cruise ship dock permit, assigns hearing officerThis rendering depicts Huna Totem Corp.’s proposed new cruise ship dock downtown that was approved for a conditional-use permit by the City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission in early July. The project has since been appealed and following Assembly action Monday night will now be assigned to a hearing officer. (City and Borough of Juneau)

Assembly accepts appeal of new cruise ship dock permit, assigns hearing officer

Appeal process can take anywhere from six to nine months before a decision is made, attorney says.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted on Monday to accept an appeal filed in early August challenging the Planning Commission’s authorization of a conditional permit for the construction of a new downtown cruise ship dock.

The appeal was filed on Aug. 4 by Juneau resident and local cruise-limiting activist Karla Hart, who cited inadequate public outreach by the city, sloppy review of data and analysis of the project, and bias in the information presented, among numerous other concerns she outlined in the appeal.

The permitting for the construction of the floating steel cruise ship dock, proposed by Huna Totem Corp. along the Gastineau Channel off the intersection of Whittier Street and Egan Drive, was originally approved with several conditions by the commission in early July during a multi-hour meeting.

The proposed dock is just one piece of a larger vision for the downtown area sought by the Alaska Native corporation, which hopes to develop both a waterfront pier and cruise terminal after receiving a donation of 2.9 acres of property from Norwegian Cruise Line in late August of 2022. The land where the project would be located, named the Àak’w Landing, was originally purchased by NCL in a $20 million bid in 2019 before being given to Huna Totem.

Though Hart’s appeal targets the dock project permit, the Àak’w Landing project includes two separate permitting processes — one for the dock and one for the uplands waterfront development.

Following the approval of the dock, the planning commission also approved a separate proposal by Huna Totem in early August for a conditional permit for an uplands project proposing the development of year-round retail, restaurants, a park and underground vehicle parking, along with a culture and science center built in partnership with Sealaska Heritage Institute and Goldbelt Inc.

The approval of the uplands project followed nearly four hours of discussion, and more than 20 comments from members of the public for and against the project. However, because of the timing of Hart’s appeal of the dock project, the discussion of the dock was banned by the commission and public commenters, which proved difficult for both commission members and residents who wished to speak about both proposals.

According to City Manager Rorie Watt, the city clerk’s office has not been contacted about an appeal to the approved uplands permit as of Tuesday afternoon. However, an appellant has 20 days to file following the notice of the decision on Aug. 12.

During the Assembly’s meeting Monday night, members were similarly barred from discussing specific aspects of the dock project, and a decision was made unanimously to send Hart’s appeal to a hearing officer. The Assembly chose to not waive its right to reject or modify the hearing officer’s decision, meaning members will continue to be prohibited from talking about the appeal until the officer’s decision is made, but in turn they will have the final say on the decision.

According to CBJ Civil Assistant Municipal Attorney Emily Wright, a general appeal process can take anywhere from six to nine months before the hearing officer comes to a decision. However, even after that, if the city, appellant or Huna Totem don’t agree with the decision it can then be sent to Superior Court, which can take an additional year.

Wright said there is also a possibility the appellant settles during the process, meaning the proposal could go back to the planning commission for a new decision with a compromise.

Despite both the proposed dock and upland development permits being approved by the commission, Huna Totem still faces another major hurdle that could stop the project from moving forward. The project needs approval from the Assembly for a land deal to lease the city-owned tidelands the corporation plans to use for the projects. According to Watt, that decision won’t likely happen until after the October election.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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