Assembly approves land-use proposal for West Anchorage

Plan includes land swap of city parkland to the airport.

Anchorage Daily NewsJuly 10, 2012 

The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday to approve a planning document for West Anchorage that includes a land-swap idea that would, in theory, trade city parkland to the airport.

City and airport officials say the proposal could be a future solution to lingering land-use issues, among them the city securing public parks and a dog park on land owned by the airport, and the airport getting land it needs to expand.

Opponents say the plan opens up the possibility of ruining the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail by giving the airport Point Woronzof Park, through which the trail passes. Though officials at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport have said in the past they would use the land for a new runway, likely diverting the trail or sending it through a tunnel, current plans do not include a specific use for the land.

The swap proposal is one of many suggestions in the hundreds of pages in the West Anchorage District Plan, but it drew dozens of people speaking against it during public testimony at the Assembly's June 5 meeting.

The 11-1 vote approving the plan Tuesday -- with only Assemblyman Patrick Flynn voting against -- makes the swap a possibility. And while the Assembly and city land-use planners previously thought a vote by Anchorage residents was required to give away dedicated parkland, a city attorney recently said that's not the case and the Assembly could do so on its own.

Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said it's unlikely the land exchange will ever happen. The amended plan says the city intends to maintain the coastal trail "in perpetuity," with a buffer of trees along its corridor, Hall said.

Hall acknowledged the controversy surrounding the land-swap portion of the document.

"We feel that we've done what we can, and we give you our pledge that it is our intent that the Coastal Trail's always going to be there and we will defend it as valiantly as you have."

Assemblyman Bill Starr said the plan, in regards to the airport, lacked language "that we're open for business."

"(The airport) needs to be open for business, open for expansion," Starr said. "Economics and industry can coexist, as they do, but we can't send the message that we want business to go elsewhere."

Cathy Gleason, president of the Turnagain Community Council and a vocal opponent of the land-swap proposal, said she appreciated Hall's comments about preserving the trail, though she worried the plan itself didn't reflect that sentiment strongly enough. Gleason also said she agreed with something else Hall said about the land-swap idea.

"It consumes so much attention that other aspects of the plan did not get the scrutiny and dialogue they deserved," Gleason said. "Everybody felt like they needed to focus on the land exchange. That idea never should have made it to this point."

But a land swap is more than the possible, yet unlikely solution, Hall described, said Gleason, who said she is bothered planners went to great lengths to describe specific ways to make it happen.

"The Planning Department obviously felt like it needed to acknowledge the possibility it might come up again in the future, if that's all the plan would've done, certainly that would've been legitimate,"

Gleason said. "But then to look at that and go far beyond what I think the public felt was an appropriate scope, finding ways the airport could get Point Woronzof Park, that's where it went too far."

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