Panel says no to South High football stadium plan

Devin Kelly
Bill Roth

A plan to install bleachers, lights and a speaker system in a new stadium at South Anchorage High School was rejected by the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night.

It was the latest turn in a long-running battle involving the Anchorage School District and residents of the neighborhood surrounding the school, who have been fighting the stadium proposal. School officials said it's unclear what will happen next.

"We're evaluating. We're taking a look at what our next steps will be," Mike Abbott, chief operating officer of support services for the school district, said Tuesday. The district has spent the past year conducting studies on noise, lights and parking impacts related to the proposed construction.

The commission voted 4-3 on the proposal, which included seating for some 1,600 spectators. It needed five votes to pass. Two of the commission's nine members were absent Monday night.

Alex Slivka, president of the Turnagain View Estates Homeowners Association, said Tuesday that the group was pleased with the result.

"We are thankful that through the process they recognized this is not a suitable site for a football stadium," said Slivka, whose home backs up to the school's playing fields.

When the school opened in 2004, the initial plans called for on-campus fields with few amenities. The football team currently plays its home games at Anchorage Football Stadium near Sullivan Arena. Then, in 2012, a group of South High parents and students successfully lobbied the Legislature for a $2.2 million legislative grant to bring lights, bleachers and speakers to the fields.

But neighbors have accused the school district of reneging on promises made when the school first opened, and expressed skepticism about the district's plans to mitigate impacts, particularly noise levels. The Turnagain View Estates Homeowner's Association has spent more than $50,000 battling the proposal.

Commissioners Jon Spring and Tyler Robinson, who cast votes in favor of the proposal on Monday, said it conformed to the district plan and the school district had made a reasonable effort to mitigate neighborhood impacts.

But Commissioner James Fergusson said the proposal did not do enough to protect the neighborhood. Commissioner Stacey Dean, meanwhile, echoed opponents of the proposal in wondering why the stadium was being funded when ASD teachers were losing their jobs.

Abbott responded on Tuesday by reiterating that the money appropriated for the stadium project cannot be used to pay for teachers, counselors or other school operations.

Just before the vote, commissioners expressed a desire to see the community and the school district somehow "bridge" the issue.

"I'd like to see the community come together," said Connie Yoshimura, vice chair of the commission. She added: "I don't know how to make that happen, however."

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