In a two-page letter, the Municipal Ombudsman concluded the Heritage Land Bank (HLB) and its contractor, Agnew::Beck, met and exceeded Anchorage Municipal Code (AMC) regarding public notice actions relating to the Carol Creek Project near Fire Lake Drive.
Ombudsman Darrel Hess responded to complaints by two Chugiak residents, Kim Donnelly and Sandra Quimby. Both women challenged the public input process and felt that information presented by Agnew::Beck the contractor for HLB, was misleading.
Density numbers originally shared at public meetings were different from other handouts Quimby said she had obtained. In addition, she alleges there was confusion as to how much public notice should be given when a revised plan is presented to only one community council.
The notification process HLB and AGNEW::Beck followed for the 2016 plan included mailing postcards to 525 residents who lived within 750 feet of the site notifying them of a public workshop. According to Agnew::Beck, approximately 30 people attended. Presentations were later made to Birchwood, Chugiak and Eagle River Valley community councils and in Oct. 2016, a draft plan was released. It was that plan that was shared at the Oct. 2016 Advisory meeting.
But the plan the HLB started to vote on Nov. 10 allegedly was not the same plan that had been presented a month earlier. Members of the Chugiak Community Council (CCC) attending the meeting pointed this out and the HLB stopped the vote for approval, postponing the vote to the Dec. 8 meeting.
It was this new plan – referred to as an “alternative proposal” – that had been modified to meet concerns HLB had heard over the course of their public meetings. However, Chugiak council members said they had not received, nor had the opportunity to comment on the alternative plan.
The new plan and alternative proposal, both updates from the original 2010 land use plan, would zone a parcel above and around the Harry McDonald Center as CE R3 and CE R2M with allowances for higher density developments than documented in the prior 2010 plan.
CCC called a Dec. 1, 2016, special meeting asking HLB to clarify the differing numbers. Robin Ward, Director of Real Estate for HLB, was unavailable to attend and sent Chris Beck and Tanya Iden from Agnew::Beck – the company contracted by the HLB to draw the plan – to meet with CCC.
Maria Rentz, then President of CCC, asked the speakers to explain the progression from the 2010 plan, which had community involvement and support, to the newest plan in front of HLB noting the 2016 plan presented to the council earlier was different than what had been presented in Nov. 8, 2016, for HLB. Iden, who had worked with the community to create the 2010 plan, shared a presentation of maps and charts identifying the changes in the plan as well as the impetus behind the modification of the six-year-old document.
According to Iden, HLB asked Agnew::Beck to revisit and update the 2010 plan after Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) sought to purchase a section of land to build a reservoir near the high elevations of the 92-acre parcel. In addition, other parcels that had been part of the plan had sold and Title 21 had since been adopted. Iden also said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz had directed HLB to review all of their holdings in the municipality to see how land could be opened up or dedicated to help create more affordable housing.
Iden’s visuals showed that the density was lowered in a couple of parcels in the revised proposal from 268-537 units to 201–378 units.
The difference in numbers Quimby had seen was due to an error in methodology, according to Hess. He noted that “They [Agnew::Beck] used net square footage instead of gross square footage. This resulted in a significant underestimation of proposed housing density. Gross square footage is the standard. Agnew::Beck subsequently corrected the error.”
Hess also believed that since the error had been adjusted prior to the Dec. 8 meeting, no further notice was necessary.
In his response, Hess said he reviewed AMC Chapter 25.40 which includes Heritage Land Bank regarding public notifications. In addition to posting on the MOA website and the mailing notification to property owners within 500 feet from the edge of the proposed development, the code requires at least one sign of uniform size to be posted in a conspicuous location. HLB had three signs posted.
Quimby believed the location of the signs were not conspicuous. Hess did concede that “for a larger, more rural lot, what is ‘conspicuous’ could be very subjective.”
HLB unanimously approved the alternative proposal at their Dec. 10 meeting. Accordingly, the next step will be a community meeting, and then the plan will be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) prior to it being sent to the Anchorage Assembly. Both PZC and the Assembly will hold public hearings and accept written comments regarding the Carol Creek Plan.
At the Jan.18 CCC meeting, the council passed a motion to request that the issue of the Carol Creek plans and density projections be taken up at the Chugiak Eagle River Advisory Board. The Board meets when two or more community councils request they convene. CCC anticipates other councils will join the request. Should the C-ER Advisory Board meet, 14 days public notice is required.
Editor’s Note: Gretchen Wehmhoff is a member of the ECHO News team and a former journalism instructor at Chugiak High School.