Opponents say revised Carol Creek plan still falls short of 2010 intent

Friday, February 16, 2018 - 13:12
  • The Carol Creek parcel of land is located roughly between Fred Meyer (lower left) and the Harry McDonald Center (lower right) in Eagle River. (Star file photo)

Anchorage zoning officials listened and changed course after hearing from Eagle River residents opposed to a plan that would have opened the door to a heavy-density housing development near downtown.

But there’s a ways to go to assure the green belt known as the Carol Creek Parcel, currently owned by the Municipality of Anchorage Heritage Land Bank, or HLB, won’t one day see apartment clusters or other multiplex housing, according to those who’ve been fighting it.

The Carol Creek housing density saga has been going on for more than a year, ever since the HLB proposed changing the allowable density on the land from 120 housing units to more than 350 units. The parcel is located roughly between the McDonald Center and Fred Meyer in Eagle River.

The latest piece is that the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission postponed action in December on allowing HLB to move forward. The commission asked HLB to alter its density allowance on the 92-acre tract of land. HLB was to submit its plans minus the request to more than triple the number of housing units allowed on the land.

Land Manager Robin Ward saw to changes that scaled back to 115 units. The new edits to the plan were approved by the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan. 29.

There is no immediate development plans in the works — the land is not platted or appraised or even priced yet — so the new changes include a parking lot to be put in to allow hikers and other recreational access to Chugach State Park.

“That was one of the requests from the community, and we complied with it,” Ward said. “They wanted more access to the park.”

The next stop for the edited plans approval is the Anchorage Assembly, which has not yet scheduled the Land Use Plan for Carol Creek Parcel on its upcoming agenda, said Hydee Caban, the Assembly’s agenda coordinator.

But what is proving a somewhat timely project is the new water tower project proposed by Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility on the Carol Creek Parcel. It’s been tangled in the discussion and any move ahead for the utility company would need to come from the same Anchorage Assembly review in an upcoming meeting.

The concern is that the assembly will put its stamp of approval on what is almost — but not quite — what the community has asked for, said Sandy Quimby, one of the lead citizens on watch over the plans.

Paul Hatcher, AWWU’s real estate coordinator, said given the many steps in the long process of gaining public approval, it could be another year or more before the utility can even purchase the tract of land where the new water tank is to be installed..

“It’s to the meet the demands of Eagle River by putting 3.5 million gallons in reserve,” Hatcher said. “In that area or elevation is the middle zone of Eagle River. We don’t have any storage in the lower zone, which this tank would provide back up for.”

Currently Eagle River has outgrown its water reservoir capacity in the established storage, Hatcher said.

“We can’t fight two fires simultaneously and effectively and efficiently in Eagle River,” he said.

The water dilemma is that Eagle River is a patchwork quilt of different water systems that have been connected over the years, Hatcher said. Getting a new reservoir is just one kind of improvement to improve the overall distribution of water throughout Eagle River, he said.

AWWU has broad community support, as expressed in community council and other meetings relating to the Carol Creek Parcel, Quimby said.

The new plan almost meets the intent of 2010 Eagle River Land Use Plan. It limits the maximum number of dwelling units to less than 125 units. But Quimby said it does not meet the intent of the 2010 Plan in the following three areas:

The new plan does not provide for transition of density from current existing residential of 1-2 dwelling units per acre as required in the 2010 Plan.

The plan being presented to the Anchorage Assembly will raise maximum density to 15 dwelling units per acre, while the 2010 Plan advised no more than 10 dwellings.

The new also plan doesn’t spread housing throughout Tract 1 as seen in the 2010 Plan.

“Instead it would allow all 125 to be built in one location on Tract 1, leaving a large amount of undeveloped land,” Quimby said. “This would leave the community open to going through this process again in the future. We didn’t think it was right that they weren’t consistent with the Eagle River Comprehensive Plan.”

But Ward believed the changes, now on its way to the purview — and veto power — of the Anchorage Assembly, did meet the wishes of the dozens who turned out to testify.

“We redistributed that (the housing) to take out land for the reservoir,” Ward said. “The other tract is the steep part of the parcel where it isn’t ideal to build. The lower tract is where the housing plans are placed for denser housing that would be close to Fred Meyer.”

Ward emphasized the written plans are for land use analysis only because there is no approved road construction plan for accessing the tracts.

“What is there now isn’t even a road. It’s a lane,” she said. “Whether it happens now or 10 years from now, we put in numbers for highest and best use, then we can revisit it again if a developer comes along. If the housing shortage gets worse, we would need to update the plan again and revise numbers. We’ve been told they won’t plan until we can find funding for road.”

The original plan would have allowed for varying levels of densities with a total of more than 300 units allowed. After vocal local opposition that ultimately resulted in resolutions by the Chugiak and Eagle River community councils opposing higher density, the commission sided with residents. Real estate director Robin Wright told the Star in June the proposed development wasn’t going to happen due to economics.

Nevertheless, Eagle River resident Darryl Parks, who has worked in concert with Quimby and others, said they want to make sure future development is in keeping with plans agreed to in the 2010 Eagle River Land Use Plan.

“There’s a level of urgency because we are going through the planning process now. I believe it was pushed through because of the water tank on that parcel. In order to get their approval moving forward, this had to be done now,” Parks said.

Eagle River already has seen a glut in the apartment-condo-townhouse style housing market, he added.

Relatively recent developments near the Walmart Superstore, behind Carl’s Junior by the Old Glenn Highway and Jitters Coffee are all the same type of units proposed for Carol Creek, Parks said.

“Both are on the market and are in the process of being developed for the last 3-5 years. And they have not sold out. Here we are and yet the market isn’t there for it,” Parks said.

The concept originally proposed was for affordable housing, a commodity in short supply in Anchorage, Parks noted. This means subsidized housing for qualifying renters.

But the small number of jobs available in Eagle River would mean commuting to Anchorage for perhaps hundreds of people meant to live in any future development, Quimby added.

“Where will they work? How will they get into Anchorage when there are limited public transportation to and from there?”

The downturn in Alaska’s population, if continued, could free up Anchorage’s bedroom community from needing to supply the housing, Parks said.

“We’ll just have to see,” he said.

In the meantime, Anchorage Assembly review of the Land Use Plan for Carol Creek Parcel hasn’t been scheduled yet. Caban, the agenda coordinator at the Municipality of Anchorage Clerk’s Office, said to watch for it to appear on the agenda in the next six to eight weeks.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com.

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