Construction work on land owned by Bicknell, Inc., at Honsinger Pond also known as the Field of Fireweed on Monday, July 22, 2019. Right now, work is focused on a 16-acre portion of a roughly 50-acre parcel. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Construction work on land owned by Bicknell, Inc., at Honsinger Pond also known as the Field of Fireweed on Monday, July 22, 2019. Right now, work is focused on a 16-acre portion of a roughly 50-acre parcel. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Development is underway at Field of Fireweed

After almost a decade of talk, it’s happening.

When driving on Egan Drive, it’s hard to miss the orange construction equipment near the fuchsia flowers.

After years of debate, a zoning change and permit filings, land that houses highly visible patch of wildflowers near Juneau International Airport — known locally as the Field of Fireweed — is being readied for industrial development.

“What I’m working on now is a 16-acre industrial subdivision,” said Spike Bicknell, whose Juneau-based company Bicknell, Inc. owns the land, in an interview.

Bicknell said there are not yet specific plans for the proposed lots near Egan Drive. Bicknell also said previously discussed plans for a temporary motocross track at the site are on hold.

Jill Maclean, Director for City and Borough of Juneau Community Development Department, said in an email the city is currently reviewing an application for subdivision, and no development permits or projects have been submitted.

[UAS is ‘open for business’ for the fall, but challenges are ahead]

It took years and multiple tries to reach the point where Bicknell could ready the property for possible industrial development.

In May 2017, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted to rezone 23 acres of Bicknell’s then 83-acre property from a “Rural reserve” designation to an “industrial” designation. Bicknell also applied in 2012 and 2013 to rezone portions of the land.

An industrial zoning allows for manufacturing, processing, repairing and assembling goods, according to CBJ’s code of ordinances.

The vote that ultimately led to the rezoning sparked debate.

Some Juneau residents and City and Borough of Assembly members opposed rezoning the Field of Fireweed because of its visual appeal and the habitat it offers to wildlife. The Audubon Society had labeled the field an “important bird area.”

Proponents for rezoning and development said it is difficult to find industrial land in Juneau, and the landowner should be allowed to pursue development of their land.

That’s the way Bicknell sees it. Plus, he said it moves him away from residential development.

“The main reason for this was a need for industrial land, and the lack of having to compete with CBJ on the residential side,” Bicknell said.

The latter part of his statement is a reference to the Pederson Hill subdivision, which is a multi-phased project that is intended to turn about 26 acres of city-owned land into 86 lots that would be sold to private buyers.

[Pederson Hill meeting draws landowners’ ire]

Bicknell also pushed back on some criticism he’s received for changing the landscape since he did take a step that will prevent development on more than 30 acres of his original 83-acre swatch of land.

In January, Southeast Alaska Land Trust purchased 32 acres known as the Honsinger Wetlands from Bicknell for an undisclosed amount. That land borders his development and the Mendenhall Wetlands and will stop future development from happening at that site.

[Land trust acquires wetlands, but Field of Fireweed poised for development]

“I felt that was part of being a responsible developer,” Bicknell said.

He said work will continue on the planned 16-acre subdivision through late fall and resume in the spring, when he plans to build a road with a cul-de-sac parallel to Egan Drive.

Bicknell said lots may be available for purchase by late fall, and he’s already heard interest in them.

“Absolutely,” he said. “There is quite a bit. It is a much-needed thing for this community.”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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