Birchwood residents want more time to discuss Assembly resolution

Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 13:42
  • The Birchwood Community Council has voted to oppose a planned Municipality of Anchorage water and sewer line extension that would serve Eklutna Incorporated’s proposed Powder Ridge subdivision, which would be located north of the Glenn Highway in Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

UPDATE (Jan. 17): The resolution in question has been postponed until the Feb. 12 Assembly meeting at the request of Anchorage Assembly chair Forrest Dunbar.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Birchwood residents are concerned about possible impacts to their neighborhood if a proposed infrastructure coordination agreement (ICA) between the Municipality of Anchorage and Eklutna, Inc. is approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

At Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting, assembly member Gretchen Wehmhoff will ask for a resolution to postpone action on the proposal in order to give locals more time to get input on its potential impact to the Birchwood area.

The council is concerned the Assembly wants to pass a resolution establishing housing development strategies in their area “without ever making any attempt to include either of the two community councils directly affected by that,” said BCC member Lexi Hill during the council’s Jan. 9 meeeting at the Beach Lake Chalet.

In provided with Tuesday’s assembly agenda, the municipality wrote that the agreement is needed to move forward with a plan to upgrade the Anchorage water system, which in turn would allow Eklutna Inc. to build on land it owns in North Eagle River. Before it can develop the site, Eklutna needs more water — and the muni has proposed building a new 24-inch transmission line at a cost of about $20 million.

The expansion has drawn opposition in Birchwood since 2017, after Eklutna and the municipality settled a natural gas dispute at the Anchorage Landfill. The settlement paved the way for the company — the private landholder in the municipality — to begin developing its Powder Reserve subdivision, which could bring as many as 1,500 units of housing to the area. But that development is contingent on upgrades to the water and sewer lines, according to the municipality.

In November of 2017 the BCC voted to oppose the water and sewer expansion project.

The planned development is needed to help alleviate a housing crunch in Anchorage, according to documents provided by the muni.

“The Municipality of Anchorage recognizes the significant negative impact caused by the lack of water and sewer infrastructure in North Eagle River, including: Population drain to the Mat-Su Valley; increase in longer driving times and distances by Anchorage workforce commuters; loss of residential property tax base; economic disincentive and impracticability of private residential development,” reads a Draft Term Sheet accompanying the proposed agreement.

Birchwood council member Debbie Ossiander sent a letter to the Assembly on Monday saying the resolution establishing housing development stragegies through the ICA hasn’t included locals in the discussion.

“There is strong community feeling that local plans, as well as comments and concerns, are being ignored once again,” Ossiander wrote.

She also pointed out that a Term Sheet accompanying the resolution stated the council had been briefed on the proposed agreement Jan. 10.

“It was not,” she wrote.

Among her concerns is the fact Chugiak-Eagle River residents haven’t been allowed to comment on AWWU’s “Northern Communities Work Plan” and the proposal isn’t consistent with the municipality’s master plan.

Local residents should be allowed to comment and learn more about the proposed agreement before it’s approved by the Assembly, Ossiander wrote.

“At a minimum, before “Housing Development Strategies in Eagle River” are adopted, they should be discussed in Eagle River,” wrote Ossiander.

Click here to see the agenda and read the proposed resolution.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

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