Pot biz block stopped

An Assembly work session on Monday evening put an end to plans to send marijuana ordinance back to the Community Development Department.

An Assembly work session on Monday evening put an end to plans to send marijuana ordinance back to the Community Development Department.

A motion to send an ordinance relating to marijuana businesses back to the Community Development Department was shot down handily at an Assembly work session Monday evening.

Assembly member Karen Crane moved to send the ordinance, which amends the Land Use Code establishing the zoning regulations for marijuana businesses, back to the CDD. This motion, had the Assembly not killed it with a 7–2 vote, would have ultimately dropped the ordinance back in the lap of the Planning Commission, which helped shape it to begin with.

Crane has taken issue with this ordinance before because it allows for marijuana business of all types to operate in Rural Reserve zones and allows marijuana cultivation in D1 zones outside of the urban service boundary, the zoning district that Crane lives in.

“I really think that we are rushing into something here by allowing D1 and not looking into what we want to do in Rural Reserve without some restrictions,” Crane said.

Crane and Marjorie Menzie, a Juneau resident who also lives in a D1 district out of the urban service boundary and who testified against the ordinance Monday, both argued that one of the ordinance’s greatest failings is that it treats neighborhoods differently depending on where they are located.

“We should not be discriminated against because we have low density or we live outside of the urban service area,” Menzie said during her testimony. She went on to say that she wants “equity” for all residential districts.

Assembly members Jesse Kiehl and Maria Gladziszewski were the most vocal in objecting Crane’s motion. Kiehl chairs the city’s Marijuana Committee, out of which the ordinance originated. Gladziszewski is a member of the committee.

“The Planning Commission has already seen it and worked on it a couple of times,” Gladziszewski said of the ordinance. “I don’t know what else we would ask them to do other than to do it over, which we don’t normally do without new information.”

Kiehl agreed with Gladziszewski, arguing that the Assembly already has “the policy tools” it needs to address the issue without holding the ordinance in limbo any longer.

“I don’t think disliking the recommendations is reason enough to send it back and say ‘Please, say something new,’” Kiehl said.

Kiehl also mentioned that Rural Reserve zones already allow for uses that may be potentially disruptive to neighbors. He pointed out that these zones currently allow racetracks and landfills with conditional use permits.

“I think that marijuana cultivation and processing will be pretty limited in their impact on neighbors compared to some of the things that are already allowed in this zone,” he said.

Juneau resident James Barrett, who plans to open a marijuana business with his brother, argued during the public comment period of the meeting that public protest of licenses rather than zoning should be used to determine where marijuana business should be able to operate.

He also asked for product manufacturing to be allowed in D1 zones, which it currently is not. This change, he said, would allow for small startups to make edibles out of their homes.

The ordinance will go before the Assembly for consideration at its next regular meeting.


Housing Action Plan

During the past year, a Virginia-based consulting firm called czb has been working with the City and Borough of Juneau to put together a plan to help solve the city’s housing crisis. The founder of czb presented the report — aptly named the Housing Action Plan — to the Assembly Monday night, and his prognosis was grim unless the city starts “nonincrementally doing things differently.”

“Your market is stuck,” czb’s founder Charles Buki told Assembly members at the outset of his presentation. “From our point of view, we’re pretty clear on that, and it’s been stuck for a long time.”

The good news, he said, is that “getting unstuck is easy.” Unfortunately, that’s also the “troubling part.” Speaking to members of city government, Buki said that the fact that the housing problem has persisted so long means that Juneau has “a governing problem.”

After Buki’s presentation, Assembly member Kate Troll said that the Assembly has taken some steps to fix the city’s housing problem. These include upzoning and amending Title 49 to make subdividing land easier.

“Overall, I really appreciate where this plan is going,” she said. “But the one problem I do have is the plan doesn’t really address the actions that this Assembly and previous Assemblies have taken to resolve the housing problem.”

According to Buki, however, upzoning will only get Juneau “to the 20-yard line” in solving its housing problem. Continuing his football metaphor, Buki said that only major overhauls to zoning will get the city “across the goal line.”

“You need to change your zoning or accept that you’re going to have a housing problem,” he said. “It’s like Juneau didn’t get the memo on suburbanization.”

Buki presented several recommendations for the Assembly to consider as it moves forward. His first recommendation, of course, was adopting his Housing Action Plan. He also recommended that the city grow its housing trust fund, hire a housing director and update its zoning regulations.

Buki’s Housing Action Plan will go to the Planning Commission next before it ultimately returns to the Assembly for consideration.


Juneau Ocean Center and Seawalk

The proposed Ocean Interpretation Center has a new name, according to Bob Janes who pitched the center to the Assembly Monday. It will now be called the Juneau Ocean Center, if it comes to fruition.

Janes said the name change was born of strategy; it includes the city’s name now and will help with fundraising, he said. Along with Linda Nicklin and Paul Voelckers, who designed the proposed center, Janes stressed the importance of location when thinking about how to move forward with the whale sculpture and the Downtown Seawalk bid, which was cancelled after bids came in much higher than anticipated.

“I’ve walked the site in the rain. I’ve walked it in the sun. I’ve walked it in the wind,” Janes responded when asked why his center couldn’t simply be placed in Bridge Park where the whale is planned to go. “As restaurateurs and businessmen will tell you, it’s all about location, location, location. And that is not the location to put in that kind of center.”

Janes also asked the Assembly to consider placing the whale in a temporary location instead of going ahead with placing it in Bridge Park. Placing it in a temporary location would cost between $50,000 and $60,000, Janes said.

The Assembly didn’t act on Janes’ proposal.

As far as the seawalk is concerned, the city will likely be splitting the project into three phases, Engineering Director Rorie Watt told the Assembly after Janes’ presentation. This is a response to bidder concerns about the different types of work requested in the original bid and the timeframe for completion.

“I think the main message is that we were asking for an unusual package of construction that our contractors don’t usually bid,” Watt said.

Under the new phase program, the first phase will take care of all of the earth moving. This will include creating the island that will be part of the seawalk and preparing the land at Bridge Park for the whale. The second phase will take care of the seawalk and the final phase will handle plantings and other finishing touches.

“That sculpture is coming, and it needs to go somewhere late next spring,” Watt said. And he assured Assembly members that preparing a place for the whale will be a priority.

The construction cost of the seawalk should remain unchanged despite the altering of the bid, Watt said.

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