Parks and Rec board talks conservation easement, dog parks during monthly meeting

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 15:07
  • Beach Lake in Chugiak. The municipal park is used for a variety of outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, dog mushing and biking. (Star file photo/Matt Tunseth)

Old business was the order of the day as the Eagle River-Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors breezed through a light agenda Monday night that featured mostly talk about long-term planning issues.

Among the weightier issues was a decision to tiptoe toward new dog park discussions as well as word that a potential windfall conservation easement could be worth less than previously anticipated.

Parks manager Karen Richards began the meeting with a report on the McDonald Center, telling board members she’s waiting on December financial reports but said she expects the center to be operating in the black for 2019, “so that’s great.” She said the purchase of a new $160,000 Zamboni is going through the municipal purchasing process, but noted the center incurred an additional expense when thieves or vandals drilled through the fuel tank on the center’s work truck.

“That’s really disheartening,” she said.

Ski trails spotty

Richards said snowfall has been relatively thin on the Beach Lake and Mirror Lake Trails, which have been groomed but remain in “marginal” condition. However, board member Lexi Hill did note that Beach Lake itself has been groomed for skiing.

FEMA negotiations ongoing

Richards said she continues to negotiate with FEMA officials on reimbursement for earthquake damage to parks facilities.

Storage yard plan moves forward

Progress on a new storage facility along the Old Glenn Highway near the CVFRD fire station continues, Richards said, with surveying work planned this month. Richards said she hopes to have drawings available next month for board members to review.

Dog park gets direction

Board members discussed what direction to take in regard to a dog park. After agreeing that previous efforts focusing on a park near Fire House Lane had been sidetracked by strong local opposition, the board directed Richards to contact the Boutet Company to begin preliminary talks about designing a dog park at Peters Creek Park, a location that has drawn less public opposition. However, board member Lexi Hill said she would like to continue to see the board figure out what to do about the unused Parks and Rec parcel at Fire House Lane.

“I don’t want us to lose sight in the long run that we have a very central piece of parkland we can’t build any public sentiment for using,” she said.

The park currently has several tennis courts and a small parking lot but the rest of the property is wooded land crisscrossed with social trails that Richards said is mainly used by people walking their dogs.

Beach Lake cash underwhelms

Richards said she recently received an appraisal for the portion of Beach Lake Park north of the railroad tracks that’s under consideration for a conservation easement. Richards said the land is valued at $4.86 million, but said the figure she was quoted as a possible easement would be $420,000. She said she’s unclear whether that’s how much the easement would be or if Parks and Rec would receive 75% of that. Board members said they were confused because previously they were told the easement could potentially be up to 75% of the land’s value. Richards said she’s still checking, but argued that if the easement brings in only a few hundred thousand — vs. several million — she would be inclined to not recommend moving forward.

Board members also wondered whether an easement could be given for a term of 50 or 100 years rather than in perpetuity. Richards said she would check on that with the Compatible Lands Foundation, the nonprofit that hopes to broker the deal, which would essentially create a conservation easement on the park that would prohibit uses not compatible with parkland.

Several board members noted there’s no rush to do anything with the land and Richards said she’d get more information.

Lodge work ongoing

Richards gave a brief update on work going on at the Beach Lake Lodge, where windows will be replaced, new flooring is being installed, the deck is being upgraded and a new roof will be installed. The facility’s dock is also being replaced after it shifted in the earthquake, she said.

Board hopes to streamline appointment process

The board concluded the meeting with a discussion about board appointments. There have been several lengthy delays recently for people appointed by their community councils to the Parks and Rec board whose names have not been passed on from the mayor’s office to the Anchorage Assembly in a timely manner. The board said it would like to explore asking the assembly to consider changing municipal code to bypass the mayor’s office in the process of appointing board members.

“This thing needs to get fixed,” said board chair Brian Fay.

Board member Josh Ream said community councils believe they should be able to appoint whoever they want to the Parks and Rec board without having to go through the additional step of having the mayor’s office pass the names through to the assembly.

“They want autonomy,” he said.

Fay said he would do further research on the issue and draft a proposal to remedy the situation.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 694-2108.

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