Construction workers work on retaining walls and other infrastructure Tuesday in preparation for an expanded three-season food court on South Franklin Street. The Juneau Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for the project, some of which occupies the space where the historic Elks Lodge stood until it was demolished last year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Construction workers work on retaining walls and other infrastructure Tuesday in preparation for an expanded three-season food court on South Franklin Street. The Juneau Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for the project, some of which occupies the space where the historic Elks Lodge stood until it was demolished last year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Expanded three-season food court on Franklin Street gets unanimous OK from Planning Commission

More food options, seating, a bar and restrooms among plans that include former Elks Lodge site.

An expanded downtown food court featuring more eateries, a bar, restrooms and a larger seating area — some of which will occupy the space where the historic Elks Lodge stood until it was demolished last year — got unanimous approval for a conditional use permit from the Juneau Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

The expansion has been proposed for years by David McCasland, owner of the Deckhand Dave’s food truck that sells fish tacos and similar fare. Other food trucks have also been on property he owns at the intersection of Franklin and Front streets from May until September each year, but McCasland said he is interested in possible winter use as well as more permanent structures and supporting fixtures.

“The food court is proposed for seasonal spring, summer and fall operation,” a project summary by the City and Borough of Juneau’s Community Development Department states. “The Applicant requests approval for winter operations as well. Winter operations are not currently planned due to water infrastructure improvements that would need to be made. However, the Applicant would like the flexibility to extend to winter hours if desired.”

The application for the project states the expanded food court will have five 250-square-foot foot trucks, 300-square-foot oyster bar, 250-square-foot bar, 200-square-foot “boat bar,” 600-square-foot table shelter, 1,500-square-foot seating tent, 150-square-foot restroom area, plus storage space and other installations. The project has a total of 4,650 square feet of covered structures, although table shelter is the only permanent structure.

Specific businesses and features listed include:

• Deckhand Dave’s food truck.

• Deckhand Dave’s boat bar.

• Bar made out of a 40-foot shipping container.

• Oyster Bar made out of a previously permitted shipping container.

• Pucker Wilson food truck.

• Crepe Escape food truck.

• Additional food truck (possible).

• Kitchen preparation food truck.

• Restroom made out of a 20-foot shipping container.

McCasland opened Deckhand Daves in 2016 and since has purchased adjacent lots including where Gastineau Apartments stood until they were destroyed by a fire in 2012, and Elks Lodge No. 420 that was built in 1908 and used in 1913 to convene the first territorial Legislature of Alaska.

Construction workers work Tuesday at the site where the historic Elks Lodge stood until it was demolished last year. The area as well as adjacent property will be used for an expansion of a food court that has operated from May to September for several years. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Construction workers work Tuesday at the site where the historic Elks Lodge stood until it was demolished last year. The area as well as adjacent property will be used for an expansion of a food court that has operated from May to September for several years. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The demolition of the Elks Lodge last fall resulted in some controversy, especially after McCasland said there were no immediate plans to tear down the building a few days before doing so. However, the CBJ summary of the project notes the Elks Lodge “had been unoccupied for years, and was not salvageable.”

Concern about the footprint of the expanded food court was expressed during Tuesday’s meeting by Zane Jones, chair of the city’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee. He said it’s much larger than other temporary developments downtown, although he noted those have long been part of Juneau’s history, and suggested a 10-year limit for the temporary setup before the owner is required to install more permanent structures.

“The main thing is we didn’t want to set a precedent for other structures that may be falling into disrepair that could then get an easy out to not be redeveloped using the guidelines that really do encourage a development style that matches the property and character of the district,” he said.

However, Jill Lawhorne, CBJ’s director of community development, said such a restriction could cause operational hardships for McCasland.

“It’s difficult as a business to develop a longer business plan if you don’t know that you have a permit for a length of time,” she said. “And while 10 years may seem long in some regards, I think in others when it comes to owning a business and trying to operate a successful business that setting a time limit like that could be detrimental to the business owner.”

If McCasland or a subsequent property owner wanted to put brick-and-mortar businesses at the site that would be a significant enough change to the project to require a new permitting process, Lawhorne said.

One written public comment was submitted prior to the meeting by Claire Geldhof, who stated March 8 “as a downtown resident that lives up the hillside, my greatest concern is the ambient noise that travels up the neighborhood from this location.

“In the past, sometimes late night music or ongoing activities can be quite loud and the sound can really amplify as it bounces around the buildings and surrounding concrete,” she wrote. However, “overall Dave and his operation are very courteous and do a nice job keeping the space clean and clear.”

McCasland told commission members about 35% of his customers are local residents. While most customers are pedestrians, details about parking and other facilities for staff and customers were provided in a Jan. 23 letter by Chris Gianotti, senior engineer for PND Engineers Inc. on behalf of the project.

“The proposed improvements will stabilize the site and increase seating at the site, increase area for customer queuing lines,” he wrote. “The retained fill behind the retaining walls will provide 15 to 20 spaces of parking. This parking will be mainly for the vendor staff and customers that are local or those using cars to get to the site.”

Efforts will also be made to preserve historic elements of the area, according to Gianotti.

“The display of the historic plaque that was on the Elks Building and reuse of the designs cast in the ground level slab of the Elks Building will note the historic character of the site,” he wrote.

McCasland, who has previously said he is interested in building housing on the hillside behind the food court, told commission members that remains a long-term possibility. But he declined to provide a timeline.

A proposal that McCasland work with the HRAC on a mutually agreeable setup for the expanded food court was offered by commission member David Epstein. But it was rejected by a 5-1 vote, with other members stating it would be difficult to define or enforce any such specific criteria.

The commission’s unanimous approval of the conditional use permit includes four conditions, including prohibiting sound systems and similar noise after 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and midnight Friday and Saturday, and outdoor lighting “that is downward cast and shines light only on the project parcel.”

“I am grateful that there’s a business owner in this community who is willing to work on that site and make this area usable and lovely for the people of Juneau — and I’m pretty excited to get a fish taco,” Mandy Cole, the commission’s chair, said just before the vote.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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