The city of Juneau has entered the land development business.
“We’ve tried and tried to do housing in Juneau, and nothing has worked,” Mayor Beth Weldon said, standing before a small crowd of about 30 on the soon-to-be christened Karl Reishus Boulevard.
The Pederson Hill subdivision, located between Auke Lake and the Mendenhall River, isn’t quite ready for development, but city officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday to celebrate its near completion.
Affordable housing has been an issue for Juneau for decades and with this new subdivision, the city is trying a number of ideas to keep home prices low.
“This is certainly something different,” Weldon said.
What’s different about the Pederson Hill subdivision is that the city has already built the roads, the infrastructure and the designated the lot sizes.
Typically a city sells empty land to a developer who builds those things. But in building the infrastructure and designating the size of the lots, the city hopes to keep the costs of homes eventually built on the site more affordable.
The lot sizes for the subdivision are much smaller than most newer construction.
“Basically, it’s supposed to be a neighborhood similar to the historic layout of downtown Juneau or Douglas,” said City and Borough of Juneau Lands Manager Greg Chaney. “The houses are a little closer together but everybody still has their own yard.”
Currently, only 17 lots have been laid out and prepped for sale but the subdivision has room for up to 86, all of which will be single-family homes.
“I get asked two big questions,” Chaney told the crowd. “When are you going to sell the lots and how much are they going to cost? And the answer is: I’m not sure yet.”
Chaney said that the Juneau Assembly still has to approve sale processes but he hopes that to be finalized within a few months. He said that he hopes to see construction begin by spring of next year.
“Lots of people are interested,” Weldon said of developers looking to build homes on the land.
In addition to taking the new approach of selling partially developed land to builders, CBJ is also experimenting with how it intends to sell the lots.
Of the 17 lots currently designated, six will be sold together to a single developer under a sealed competitive bid process where developers submit bids by a particular deadline.
Another six will follow the same competitive bid process but lots will be sold individually. The remaining five will be sold at a fixed, yet-to-be-determined, price via lottery.
“All of this is just different,” Weldon said.
The subdivision was the point of some contention over the years. Some developers claimed that due to high cost of building supplies in Juneau, homes simply could not be built at the prices the city was hoping.
Also at the ribbon cutting ceremony was Juneau Chief of Police Ed Mercer and members of the Juneau Police Department. The police were there because the main boulevard of the new subdivision was named in honor of officer Karl Reishus, who was killed in the line of duty in 1992.
“Karl is not forgotten,” Mercer told the crowd. Reishus was killed during a training exercise at the Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center just across Glacier Highway where the ribbon cutting took place.
“Two firemen were falling from a four-story structure during the repelling descent,” Mercer said. “Karl grabbed a hold of them in order to stop their fall. Karl was pulled with the firemen and died from the fall.”
Reishus’ widow Sue was also present and joined Weldon in cutting the ribbon.
“I think it’s a great honor,” Reishus said. “It’s a great thing for my kids to see.”
With the road named after her late husband so close to training center where he was killed, “I like to think that he looked out over this area before he died,” she said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.