Neighbors hope to turn former problem property into a park

Monday, April 29, 2019 - 07:23
  • This property in Peters Creek was foreclosed on by the Municipality of Anchorage in December. A group of local residents hope to turn the vacant land into a community park. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Now that a long-term irritant has been removed from their neighborhood, some folks in Peters Creek are grappling with the issue of what to do next. That’s a problem they’re happy to have.

“We are so grateful for the way the property was abated the way it was,” said Joelle Hall, one of several people working on a proposal to help build a small park on property locally known as the “Yates Compound.” The derelict property was foreclosed on by the Municipality of Anchorage over the winter.

For decades, the property between Sunnyside Drive and Rambler Road was a thorn in the sides of local residents. The site was the focus of a constant stream of police calls, with neighbors complaining of problems ranging from abandoned cars to discarded hypodermic needles to loud noise and thefts of everything from cars to electricity. In December 2018, the municipality took possession of the land due to unpaid taxes and tore down a pair of dilapidated buildings on the property.

Now locals want to turn the spot into a positive for residents of the neighborhood near Mirror Lake Middle School.

Hall was joined by neighbors Vincent English and Mark Nusbaum during a presentation to the Eagle River-Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors earlier this month in which the group shared their hope of turning the two vacant lots into a neighborhood park. The idea would be to create a group to purchase the land, then build a small “pocket park.” English explained the concept, which would include an area where children could play or people walking their dogs could get off the street in a relaxed setting.

“That’s the big, hairy idea,” he told the board.

The supporters say their plan is in its infancy and faces several hurdles. Whether the park would be used for dogs or kids — or somehow, both — has yet to be ironed out and the group has no money to buy the land. At this point the group is simply gathering information, holding informal discussions and trying to build support for the proposal, said English, who told the board he knocked on nearly 70 doors and found widespread support for the park concept in general.

Hall said the first step would be to acquire the land from the municipality’s Heritage Land Bank, which is tasked with managing municipal-owned property. Bank director Robin Ward said foreclosed land is normally sold through a sealed competitive bid process in which the minimum bid is the amount of taxes owed plus any money the municipality spent cleaning up the land.

In this case, the Anchorage Assembly has put a one-year hold on selling the land in order to give the group time to come up with a proposal. However, the previous owners can also buy the land back for $15,863.48 — the amount of unpaid taxes ($3,768) plus how much the muni spent cleaning up the property.

Acquiring the land is not the only challenge that park proponents face. Parks and Recreation director John Rodda cautioned the group that building a park is no easy feat, and said the small lot size will limit the scope of what kind of park could be built there. However, he did wish the group well and applauded its enthusiasm in taking up the issue.

“Not everyone has people that are willing to do the work,” he said.

After years of fighting to get the compound cleaned up, Nusbaum said he’s more than willing to do whatever it takes to turn the site into a positive area for the community.

“It’s like getting a college degree — you can’t quit now,” he said.

The group said they plan to work with the local community council and keep council members updated on the group’s progress. Hall said residents know they face an uphill battle, but said she’s also highly motivated to put in the work that’s needed.

“You don’t get anything unless you ask for it,” she said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274

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