Honorable Alaskans depend on the integrity of deals done on handshakes among ourselves, but when dealing with local government in Anchorage, homeowners of the Birchwood community have learned they cannot count on the integrity of any agreement–even if it is in the Comprehensive Plan.
Some members of the Birchwood Community Council feel betrayed by a compromise proposal to bring Anchorage Water and Waste Water (AWWU) lines into their area from the Chugiak High School Vault to the North Eagle River Vault. Resolution AO 2017 153, proposed by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, will have a public hearing November 21* to flush out concerns of residents for and against the line.
*Editor’s Note: Our apologies, we have since been informed that the public hearing is actually tentatively scheduled for December 19, November 21 is the first date the ordinance and resolutions will be introduced to the Assembly. So any comments to the Assembly, Mayor or AWWU should be prior to that date or at public testimony on that date.
“We still have a 23’ transmission water line through our ‘no water and sewer’ Birchwood Community,” responded John Cruickshank, a long-time Birchwood resident, following distribution of the proposed resolution. “We still have assessments against all those neighborhood properties, but now have a (potential) resolution that says no water and sewer districts will be allowed in that neighborhood district. So that means assessments will likely not be changed to liens.”
Cruickshank believes AWWU should make a small loop within just the Eklutna Inc. Powder Reserve development similar to the way the previous Powder Ridge development was set. By being “deadheaded,” or looped to itself, the line is not tied to a redundant transmission line while three miles of redundant transmission line opens up possibilities for small lot developments.
Some long-time residents of Birchwood have fought long and hard to maintain the rural nature of their outlying community.
They say they accept that there is need for housing as Anchorage continues to grow. They understand that some people are perfectly happy to live on small lots; next to neighbors who can’t mind their own business dwelling in wall-to-wall condominiums or tract homes that are all variations of a cracker box.
Some also believe the Berkowitz Administration and Eklutna, Inc. are jeopardizing their rural community standing. These honorable Alaskans did not ascend to this rural lifestyle by accident and they know what they must do when offered the “opportunity” to IMPROVE their situation with water from Eklutna Lake and sewer treatment into Cook Inlet.
They are also cognizant of how the Three Little Pigs dealt with the wolf.
“The Birchwood Community Council has been on record in the Comprehensive Plan as a no water or sewer area since the mid-1980s to preserve our large lot rural area,” explained Cruickshank, as his wife Patty Friend also affirmed this intent, while seated around their kitchen table. “The problem is AWWU plans to extend through the southern tip of our council area will result in assessments against the properties of our area. The presence of a feeder line that can be tapped also implies that water for future subdivisions is available.”
As a rural area, with large lots and independent wells and septic systems that can absorb waste safely for a long time to come, most Birchwood lots were zoned R-6 back in 1985. They say that’s when Assemblyman Fred Dyson helped form this policy.
The current 54-in diameter line from Eklutna Lake to Anchorage is 54 miles long. AWWU informed the Birchwood Community Council that it needs to install some three miles of the 23-in pipe in this area for redundancy in the system.
Some see this as the camel’s nose under the tent. Properties along the unwanted line will be assessed and sooner or later required to pay for this development. And they see Mayor Berkowitz riding that camel.
Former Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander has detailed provisions protecting the Birchwood area in the Chugiak-Eagle River Comprehensive Plan (2006).
That plan describes the nature of Birchwood specifically on P 35: Rural: An area of low density development primarily consisting of detached houses on lots one acre or larger (one or less dwelling per acre) with on-site well and septic systems. This development results from environmental constraints, preferred lifestyle choices and limited city services. Incidental neighborhoods may be semi-rural consisting of single family homes on half-acre or larger lots (one to two dwellings per acre). The area may also include some low intensity commercial and industrial uses, particularly in the form of home-based businesses. It is generally located in the areas of South Fork, upper Eagle River Valley, and Chugiak (the neighborhoods of Birchwood, Peters Creek and Eklutna Valley).
On Page 36, the Muni is called upon to: protect the opportunity to maintain a rural lifestyle.
On Page 37, 2. Objectives c. Preserve and enhance the identity of established community areas and neighborhoods.
Residents argue Birchwood is one of the oldest, established and stable neighborhoods in Chugiak.
On Page 39, Housing and Residential Development, Objectives, the plan calls for the Muni to: Ensure retention of identified districts within the community that want to remain rural with large residential lots.
On Page 40-41, 3. POLICIES/STRATEGIES, h. Use transition buffering where new development occurs between rural and urban densities and between residential and non-residential development.
On Page 50, F. WATER AND WASTEWATER UTILITIES, 3. POLICIES/STRATEGIES, d. Do not extend public utility systems to areas designated for low-density development on the Land Use Plan map, except where needed to resolve public health problems.
On Page 53, H. TRANSPORTATION, 2. OBJECTIVES: l. Give full consideration to preserving the existing rural lifestyle in low density areas of Chugiak-Eagle River in the design of transportation improvement projects.
On Page 64, Describing certain rural residential classifications: The predominant land use consists of detached houses on lots one acre or larger in size. The intended overall density for new development is less than one housing unit per gross acre. This type of development results from a combination of preferred lifestyles, a lack of public infrastructure, remoteness and environmental constraints. The areas expected to develop with large-lot subdivisions include Birchwood, Eklutna Valley, South Fork and portions of Chugiak, Peters Creek and Eagle River Valley.
On Page 77, Land Use Actions: 1. Use the Comprehensive Plan including the Land Use Plan map as the policy guide for land use decisions including future zoning map amendments, subdivisions and the location of public facilities.
The Chugiak Eagle River Comprehensive Plan is important to the orderly development of this area. Politicians elected to do the will of Anchorage voters must consider long-term goals and aspirations of residents. As a government-owned utility, AWWU must also adhere to the will of Anchorage residents as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Under Public Facilities and Services of that plan, section F, Water and Waste Water Utilities Pages 51, 79 and 80, 3. POLICIES/STRATEGIES c. Update the municipal water and wastewater master plans to be consistent with this Comprehensive Plan. Other non-municipal utilities serving the area will be encouraged to use this Plan as the basis for updating master plans for their facilities.
AWWU update of its master plans to be consistent with the CER Comprehensive Plan, was supposed to have happened in 2007, according to Ms. Ossiander, but deals without consideration of the plan are now being made.
Editor: We encourage you to write in with your comments on this matter. We understand that this proposed expansion is a very heated topic, and would like to hear from those on both sides of the issue. You may email letters to email@example.com, mail or deliver them to our office between 8:30 and 5:00 pm Monday-Friday at 16941 N. Eagle River Loop Rd #3 in Eagle River. Letters to the editor may not be anonymous.
Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is now a teacher after becoming certified in Juneau after living there 20 years. He has taught Adult Basic Education for the last 10 years. To reach Donn, email: firstname.lastname@example.org