Hazard maps and city code block affordable housing project in Juneau
Obsolete hazard maps and city code block affordable housing project in downtown Juneau. The city is grappling with its need for affordable housing and the way it interprets its own code.
The blue building at 247 South Franklin Street once housed dozens of people every night as Glory Hall, Juneau’s emergency shelter and soup kitchen.
Director Mariya Lovishchuk tries out a few keys before the door opens. Glory Hall moved to a more spacious location this summer, and the downtown property that the Glory Hall Association still owns is nearly empty.
Lovishchuk walks through the commercial kitchen to a high-ceilinged dining room that once served up to a hundred meals a day. She heads to the second and third floors, where she offers to convert the dorms into apartments.
Lovishchuk says the city is in dire need of affordable downtown housing, but the Juneau Development Department will not give the green light to its plans.
According to city paperwork this is because the Glory Hall building is in a high avalanche risk area. The city code states that existing properties in these areas cannot increase density through new construction.
Lovishchuk argues that his plan actually reduces the number of people who could sleep there. The room she is in is full of bunk beds. It once housed around ten people. As an apartment, only one or two people would live there.
“Overall, we are not increasing the density of people sleeping here, nor the spaces inside the building. So I really hope that everything will work out, ”she said.
Lovishchuk’s plan will add some walls inside the building, but instead of sleeping 50 people as shelter, the apartments will accommodate 7-14 people.
“The catch is their reading of the code,” said city manager Rorie Watt.
“They read this as a building conversion. In the world of planning, they convert use.
He says the development department views the new construction as a conversion of use – from shelter to apartments – and they say it’s prohibited by code.
The code says development by conversion cannot increase density. The main objective is to “minimize the risk of loss of life or property due to landslides and avalanches.“
“For someone who isn’t familiar with the land use code or isn’t in it regularly… And it’s like, well, maybe that doesn’t make sense. But that’s still what they think the code means, ”Watt said.
Lovishchuk appealed the city’s decision to the town planning commission, which voted unanimously to hear its appeal at a future meeting that has not yet been scheduled.
Department officials would not discuss the matter during the appeal process.