City won't pursue homeless housing near Kincaid Park

nherz@adn.comOctober 7, 2013 

Anchorage will drop its effort to acquire land near Kincaid Park to use for housing and services for homeless residents, and those at risk of becoming homeless, Mayor Dan Sullivan told a community meeting Monday night.

The city could not find a way to pay for the development of the 66-acre property, which could have cost as much as $80 million, Sullivan said.

"Quite frankly, it's the sticker shock," he told more than 175 people at a meeting of the Sand Lake Community Council. "The scale of it is beyond what we considered to be affordable."

The city made its decision on the project, known as Raspberry Court, after a meeting Monday with supporters of the proposal, which included the Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, according Jeff Jessee, the authority's chief executive officer.

"No one could really identify: How are we going to pay for this facility, and how can we sustain it going forward?" Sullivan told the community council.

Jessee, however, said that the decision had not been a consensus.

"I thought it was a pretty positive sense of the group wanting this to continue on," he said in an interview late Monday. "There was a recognition that yes, the funding--both of the capital and the service dollars--would be a challenge. Everyone understood that, and were quite frank with the mayor about that. But then also realize that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

In a written statement, Britteny Matero, a manager at the Anchorage's Department of Health and Human Services leading the project's planning, said that when the city had developed its application, the economic outlook had been "much more positive."

"At this time, it seems most prudent to focus on smaller projects for the immediate future," she said. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners and the community to find solutions to prevent and reduce homelessness."

Anchorage's application had called for the city to develop a campus on both sides of Raspberry Road, then lease it to a partner that would run it.

The land had been used by the Federal Communications Commission, and the city's application was competing with a parallel bid from the Ted Stevens International Airport, which was seeking the land for expansion, and as a buffer between its operations and the surrounding area.

However, the General Services Administration--the federal government's landlord--puts a priority on applications that use property to assist the homeless.

Raspberry Court's initial phase would have included temporary and permanent housing for 96 people, plus an administrative building, dining area, and health center.

At the community council meeting, many attendees--some of whom carried in signs reading "SAVE OUR LAND"--opposed the development of the campus.

Plans had called for a 150-foot wooded buffer between the site and its neighbors, as well as 24-hour security. But Catherine Burke, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the federal property, said that she opposed the project regardless of how it was packaged.

"Every facility, including Alcatraz, has people escape," she said.

Another Sand Lake resident, John Goll, said that he had come to the meeting with an open mind, but "a lot of questions to be answered."

"I'm sure there was a lot of relieved people here," he said afterward. "But there's still the issue in the community, and hopefully the mayor pushes that."

That was an attitude mirrored by Assemblyman Ernie Hall, who represents the area.

In his presentation to the community council after Sullivan departed, Hall challenged skeptical residents about how the city could help people "who are going to go sleep in a car tonight, or in a box, or in an alley."

"It's not necessarily anything that any of us are excited about," he said. "But the question that we've got to ask ourselves (is): If not in my neighborhood, then where? Where are we going to provide facilities to help these people?"

RASPBERRY COURT AT A GLANCE

-- City was applying for 131 acres of federal property next to Kincaid Park, for use for homeless services and public works infrastructure.

-- Ted Stevens International Airport filed a competing application, to use the land for expansion and as a buffer to the surrounding area.

-- Raspberry Court would have used 66 acres of the land on the north and south sides of Raspberry Road, connected by a footbridge, to aid people trying to move out of homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless.

-- First phase would have been completed by 2017 and included services, plus housing for 96 residents, with additional housing scheduled for construction later.

-- Alcohol would have been banned from campus.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

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