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Development boom in Juneau stacks up on condominiums

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Development boom in Juneau stacks up on condominiums

Source: Anchorage Daily News

JUNEAU -- After 41 years of working in Juneau's residential construction industry, developer Roger Engen of Bee-Plus Builders said he hopes to retire in one of the townhouses he's building on Douglas Island.

Engen said his lots are Douglas Island's last stretch of waterfront property zoned for housing.

"It's crazy that people have made their lives in this community but can't afford to retire here," he said.

The housing shortage in Juneau that has driven home prices into the $500,000 range is demanding from the market some frugal options, those in the housing industry say.

Assembly member Bob Doll said condominiums help bring the price of housing down and increase the number of units available. According to developers and real estate agents, the average price of a two-bedroom condo in Juneau is $250,000.

"I think we need to find in Juneau locations that will accommodate high density," he said.

Besides retirees, a crop of young professionals is on its way to fill newly created jobs with the University of Alaska Southeast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility, the developing Kensington Mine and Wal-Mart and Home Depot, which are scheduled to open their doors early next year, said broker John Williams, also owner of Juneau Real Estate.

After a cooling period in the late 1990s and the early part of this decade, the market is now answering a new demand for condos. Some 45 units were approved last year, compared to just four the year before. And a lot more units are on their way.

Condos are not quite homes where one can outfit the roof with Christmas lights or display lawn ornaments out front. But to empty-nesters and young professional couples, that may not matter.

Many of Juneau's condos are stacked on Douglas Island, where lots are zoned for high density. Dale Pernulla, the city's community development director, said it's a popular place for its proximity to downtown, as most land downtown was already developed.

Revenue from a temporary 1 percent sales tax that voters in October chose to continue will allow the city to build sewer extensions on Douglas Island and in the Mendenhall Valley.

Plots north of the Douglas Island roundabout are set to increase in density when the sewer reaches them, Pernulla said. Personally speaking, he supports higher density for land across from the valley's Brotherhood Bridge for condo development.

Until the sewer extensions are made, few land plots zoned for high density are available. Pernulla said a flat piece of open space near Glacier Cinema is still up for grabs; a few others are available on Douglas Island near existing complexes.

Pernulla said condos do increase noise and traffic to an area.

Meanwhile, condos are being built downtown, at Lemon Creek and in the valley this spring and summer to meet an immediate demand.

Developer Richard Harris is building 30 units a bit off the beaten path from several hotels near Glacier Highway in the valley.

Harris and other developers say this year's condo-building flurry does not have to be short-lived if private citizens owning land are willing to sell their property and the city either rezones more lots for higher density or frees up parcels designed as parks or open space.

Engen advocates opening more waterfront land for residential development.

In 1985, the city approved a comprehensive plan that identified most waterfront land as park property. The city reconfirmed the plan in the mid-1990s but will be looking at it again soon, said deputy lands planner Cynthia Johnson.

To convert some of the park land into residential property would involve the city adopting an entirely new scheme, she said.

Doll said the Assembly will await regular reports on housing in Juneau from Pernulla and base density decisions on them. The Assembly could recommend against higher-density zoning if the need for affordable housing is being met, he said.

"But I doubt if that will be the case," he said.

View of Douglas Island or West Juneau (i think?)


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