Move to put fire station in a South Anchorage park upsets residents

Rosemary Shinohara

Some neighbors of Rabbit Creek Park off DeArmoun Road are fighting an Anchorage Fire Department proposal to lop off 2 1/2 acres from the 9-acre woodsy park for a new fire station.

The Fire Department picked a piece of the park that borders DeArmoun at Lake Otis Parkway, from among 23 prospective sites for a replacement for the Huffman Road fire station. The Planning Department also backs that site.

The existing station is crammed into the busy Huffman business district next to a UPS store and a McDonald's. It's between the Old and New Seward Highways.

The station needs to be renovated, and needs a larger lot, say documents justifying the plans.

Richard Cline, who has lived next to Rabbit Creek Park for 23 years, said he thought the parkland was protected.

"The sign says Rabbit Creek Park. And we all assumed it was a park," Cline said.

He and neighbors are passing out flyers and organizing discussions at community meetings to protest moving the fire station to the park.

The acreage has been officially recognized as a park at least since 1975, park planner Tom Korosei wrote in a city memo.

But city code says parks can be converted to other public purposes within the municipality, though depending on the circumstances, it may take a vote of the Anchorage Assembly to do so.

Shelly Nuss, who, like Cline, lives on Seafarer Loop near the park, said she doesn't get the reasoning for taking parkland.

"We don't understand when the municipality is facing a $30 million deficit, they would close existing fire stations and build a new one in a park that is used year round," Nuss said in an e-mail.

The city is considering closing Southport fire station to save money in the 2013 budget.

But Mayor Dan Sullivan said the funding exists to replace Huffman station separate from the budget; and he said the city hasn't decided yet about Southport.

The city has a $5 million state grant from the Legislature to rebuild the station, to be matched by $1 million in local funds.


The decision about where the replacement fire station should go will eventually be made by the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the city Parks and Recreation Commission and the Rabbit Creek Community Council will discuss it Thursday night, the Huffman-O'Malley Council takes it up Oct. 18, and the Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear the pros and cons Nov. 5.

The city chose three sites for an in-depth look, including the site of the existing station on Huffman, the park parcel, and some undeveloped land at Huffman and Lake Otis.

The Fire Department considered the size of the lots, the cost of acquiring and developing them, the soils on each site, zoning restrictions, traffic and how quickly fire vehicles would be able to respond to the area the Huffman station covers.

The main reason for endorsing the Rabbit Creek Park site over the others is response times, according to a memo city project manager Heath Landon sent to one of the area residents.

The Fire Department's goal is to get to a structure fire or life-or-death medical crisis within four minutes 90 percent of the time.

"None of the sites are perfect," Landon wrote, but the proposed ... site appears to have the greatest potential... ."

The city Parks and Recreation Department hasn't taken a position on whether a piece of the park should be used for the fire station.

But the Parks Department says at minimum, trails and lighting improvements should be included in the project, buffers of natural vegetation should be retained, and the balance of the park not used by the Fire Department should be dedicated as a park to confirm its long-term status. Right now, it's just designated parkland, not dedicated.

Resident Claudia Christensen notes the park land would be free for the Fire Department to build on.

"I think it's bad precedent to take park land to put municipal buildings on," she said.

She said she and her husband look at Rabbit Creek Park every day when they wake up. "My boys were always out there. They're in college this year."

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.