Board OKs Karluk Manor, pending annual reviews

Lisa Demer

A controversial project to house alcoholics now living on the Anchorage streets won approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night -- but only if it meets a list of strict conditions including annual reviews.

Karluk Manor will be Anchorage's first big Housing First project serving homeless alcoholics whether they are ready to stop drinking or not.

The commission voted 7-2 that RuralCAP should get a conditional-use permit to turn the old Red Roof Inn, at Fifth Avenue and Karluk Street, into 48 efficiency apartments for chronic public inebriates.

Melinda Freemon, RuralCAP's Anchorage services director, said people could start moving in within six to eight months, assuming the project clears any appeals.

Commissioners in support said that they considered comments from both sides about the harm already done to the neighborhood by street alcoholics.

At its meeting in July, the commission heard hours of testimony from dozens of people about Karluk Manor. In addition, hundreds of people wrote in their views to the commission.

RuralCAP and its supporters have maintained the project would help the neighborhood by getting dozens of people off the streets. Opponents have said it would become a magnet for street alcoholics and add to the problems they already bring to Fairview, which they contend already has more than its share of social services.

"We heard very lengthy and emotional and compelling testimony from people in the neighborhoods about the stress and the anguish they feel over people who are passed out in the snow in the street, or the fear they feel when someone is camped out in their carport," commissioner Nancy Pease said Monday night. "We know there is a need for housing for this population."

RuralCAP was awarded $3.5 million in state housing grants to buy the Red Roof Inn, renovate it and help run the project for three years. Tenants would have to be low income and could apply for housing vouchers to cover part of their rent.

The city Planning Department staff had recommended against the project at that location because of the concentration of social services already in Fairview, the project's proximity to the Fairview Lions Park and potential traffic dangers. Among the materials submitted to the commission were Anchorage Police Department statistics showing 200 to 300 red light violations at Fifth and Karluk each of the past three years.

"I just can't get my head around putting a whole bunch of very drunk pedestrians in the center of some of the highest red light running part of town," said commissioner Stacey Dean, one of two "no" votes.

But RuralCAP has noted that there have only been two minor accidents involving pedestrians in the last 10 years.

As to the park, it's closer than the 500 feet separation distance set out in a new city law setting standards for "severe alcohol dependent housing." Commissioners noted the ordinance provided for exemptions, and that the entrance to Karluk Manor would be more than 500 feet from the park. Plus Rural CAP has already adopted the park and promises to keep it clean.

Among the conditions:

• Security cameras in the park to be monitored by RuralCAP. It would be the first city park with such security cameras, and city lawyers have questioned whether it's legal for a private group to monitor the cameras.

• Around-the-clock contact numbers for people in Fairview to call Karluk Manor in case of problems.

• Regular neighborhood surveys by RuralCAP to see what's working, and what's not.

• At least two staff members working at any time.

• Annual reviews by the planning commission.

• An elevator big enough for a stretcher.

"I think the monitoring and the reviewing and the auditing and the scrutiny are excellent tools to hold everyone accountable for this project," Freemon said.

Voting for it were Chairwoman Toni Jones and commissioners Pease, John Weddleton, Connie Yoshimura, Art Isham, Bruce Phelps and Terry Parks. Against it were Dean and James Frederick.

The Fairview Community Council fought hard to get the planning commission to reject the project and now must decide whether to continue the battle, council president Sharon Chamard said after Monday night's vote. She said she would bring the matter up at the council meeting Thursday to see whether the group wanted to appeal, and on what grounds.

"There may be technical things," Chamard said. "I don't know if a reasonable grounds for appeal is 'We don't like the decision.' "

The commission still must formally approve a resolution listing its findings of fact. Once that resolution is approved -- sometime in the next two months -- anyone who opposes the decision has 20 days to appeal to the city Board of Adjustment. Decisions by that board can be appealed in court.

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