Planning commission hears big plans

The future look of Juneau may well be shaped by two plans that were presented to the city Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The commission reviewed the Division of Lands and Resources’ land management plan and the engineering department’s concept design for Franklin and Front Streets.

Both plans are still a ways off from implementation (no action was taken by the commission during the meeting), but here’s a look of what is being planned:

The Land Management Plan

The last time the city updated its Land Management Plan — an instruction manual of sorts regarding the management of all city-owned land — Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys were still dominating the radio, Star Wars had just been rebooted (for the first time) and some people were worrying about Y2K. The year was 1999 and the plan was only four years old.

Somewhere along the way, the plan, which was supposed to be updated every two years, fell by the wayside. But when the city hired Greg Chaney as its lands and resources manager a few years ago, he began working to update it.

“We had this legacy where we were aware that there were problems with the plan,” Chaney told the Empire in an earlier interview. “We just hadn’t gotten around to sitting down and working to fix them.”

The first thing he did was take an inventory of all city-owned properties. The city has purchased more than 100 properties and sold about 90 since the plan was last updated.

Now after two and a half years of work, Chaney and the Lands and Resources staff have a draft plan ready. They’re making the rounds to get the word out about it; their most recent stop was the Planning Commission.

The new draft plan contains an up-to-date log of all city-owned property and recommendations for what to do with each parcel. The options are two-fold: retain or dispose. The city may be able to sell parcels marked for disposal — Chaney said some of these parcels could be developed for housing.

Most Juneauites will never see the plan at this level of detail. Many may never see it at all. But it has the potential to impact everybody, according to Chaney.

“It puts everything in a broader context,” he said. “It makes it easier for the Assembly and the public to look our land as a community and say ‘What are we doing?’ It’s hard to keep perspective when you’re looking at it one piece at a time.”

Chaney hopes the Assembly will approve the plan by early next year.

Franklin and Front Streets Concept Design

Michele Elfers, an architectural assistant with the city engineering department, presented the department’s concept design for improving Franklin and Front streets. This is the “first phase of a streetscape improvement project,” according to the project report.

Elfers told the commission that the targeted portion of downtown, which roughly overlaps the city’s historic district, is a 30-year-old streetscape, and “there’s actually a lot of problems with that.”

Age and weather have taken their toll on the sidewalks and infrastructure, and both Franklin and Front Streets present accessibility challenges. The sidewalks are narrow, and the light poles are bulky and take up a lot of space, making pedestrian travel cramped and difficult.

Chief among the projects recommendations are: preserving parking, replacing (and where possible widening) sidewalks, adding benches and improving canopies.

When asked by a commission member what the next step for the project is, Elfers pointed out that it will need funding from the Assembly. It currently has none.

Right now, the project is still in the public outreach process. The engineering department has already held several meetings seeking the public’s input about the design concept. The next chance to comment will be at a meeting on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Baranof Hotel.

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