Juneau’s Glory Hall has been granted a conditional use permit to convert the space that used to house its emergency shelter into a seven-unit affordable housing complex.
Nearly a full year after they first applied for the permit, Glory Hall staff and their lawyer went before the city’s planning commission for the last time on Tuesday night.
And their supporters showed up in full force. At least 40 people came to the meeting, most of them wearing shirts that said “Juneau Needs Affordable Housing” in plain block letters.
More than two dozen people testified in favor of the commission’s approval of the permit. They spoke passionately for three minutes each, for more than an hour. No one who testified expressed opposition to the project. There was testimony from people who had experienced homelessness and from people who work with Juneau residents who don’t have stable housing.
Rev. Karen Perkins’s church hosts Juneau’s cold weather shelter.
“I see every day — actually every night — how dangerous it is for people not to have places to live,” she said. “I don’t adequately understand what the concern is about creating these units … help me understand it, if there’s someone who can.”
City officials have denied earlier permit requests from the Glory Hall, citing the part of Juneau’s city code that says construction projects in avalanche and landslide hazard zones can’t “increase density.”
The Glory Hall’s project would increase the number of units in the building, but it would decrease the number of people in the building.
Mary Alice McKeen has been representing the Glory Hall during the permitting process. She said at the meeting that the city’s definition of density “goes against such common sense and such logic that it leads people to have distrust and frankly scorn of government institutions.”
Four physicians testified. Emergency room doctor Jodie Totten said that homelessness isn’t good for people’s health or the health of the community.
“I think this is an opportunity where our community can provide for some people to be stably housed,” she said. “I don’t understand why we would not take this opportunity.”
Commissioner Travis Arndt made the motion to approve.
“I believe it’s a net increase in public health and safety, as the intention will be reducing the number of people located at that site,” he said. “We’re working with the assembly all the time to get more housing downtown. That is exactly what that does.”
The vote was unanimous. The motion to grant the permit passed, and everyone in the audience applauded.
“I feel like a billion pounds has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Glory Hall Deputy Director Luke Vroman. “Some faith is restored that our leaders understand that we have people who don’t have homes, and they need homes.”
The city will issue the decision in writing by the end of this week or early next week, and the Glory Hall can then collect any permits they need for the project.
According to Jill McLean, who heads the city’s community development department, the city or anyone from the public could appeal, but she said “it’s highly unlikely that the city would.”