The Glory Hall avoided defeat, if not quite scoring what it considers a victory, in its effort to turn its former downtown homeless shelter building downtown into seven low-income housing units, as the Juneau Planning Commission again determined Tuesday the Community Development Department erred in rejecting the project.
But instead of approving it outright, the commission ordered the Glory Hall to work with CDD in obtaining a conditional use permit for the project, essentially returning it to one starting point of a bureaucratic process that started eight months ago.
“On the one hand it’s progress from our point of view because what CDD decided was we couldn’t do it,” said Mary Alice McKeen, an attorney representing the Glory Hall pro bono. “Then the Planning Commission initially said ‘give them the permit’ and now they’ve backtracked.”
“It’s definitely an improvement over the initial CDD process which was announced. But frankly it was a disappointment because we thought the first Planning Commission decision was correct.”
CDD denied construction permits for the housing units on the assertion it would increase density in an avalanche hazard zone. The Planning Commission in May essentially set that aside by ordering CDD to accept a 1987 engineering study provided by the Glory Hall stating the building is not in a severe hazard zone.
Department officials also interpreted density in terms of the number of housing units the renovation would have, while the Glory Hall argued – and the commission agreed – the number of occupants should determine density.
The Planning Commission gave CDD 30 days to reconsider its decision. The department filed an objection to the commission’s decision earlier this month, resulting in the commission taking up the matter again in executive session on Tuesday before announcing its revised mandate.
“The Planning Commission finds that the (CDD) director erred in her interpretation…and remands (the proposal) to CDD to work with TGH to initiate the conditional use permit,” Commission member Joshua Winchell said, according to a transcript of the meeting.
The decision, while welcome to Glory Hall officials in terms of keeping the project alive, is also frustrating because they were initially told by CDD officials neither a conditional use permit nor a parking waiver would be required, according to an email sent by Glory Hall Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk.
McKeen said she and Glory Hall officials are waiting until they receive a written decision, likely within a few days, before determining if they will further pursue the matter with the Planning Commission or work with CDD on the conditional use permit. But she and Lovishchuk agree they will proceed forward with the project.
“We are very committed to developing housing downtown, so we’re going to keep jumping through hoops,” Lovishchuk said. “Ultimately we’ll persevere, but it’s really unfortunate for this situation to be happening in the middle of a housing crisis.”
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com