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Anchorage Assembly passes special zoning regulations, protects Eklutna Village

Tegan Hanlon

The Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed special zoning regulations for the Native Village of Eklutna on Tuesday, easing building restrictions and protecting the 802-acre parcel from further encroachment by utilities.

In creating what the city calls an "overlay district," the tribal council and Eklutna Inc., a village corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, now must give the go-ahead before the city runs any new public trails, utilities or transportation facilities through the land. Families can build more than one home on their property, allowing multiple generations to live close together. A communal firewood building will also be OK.

Lee Stephan, tribal council president, said the overlay district was a long time coming.

"We trusted you for many years," Stephan said to the Assembly at its meeting Tuesday night. "Trust us."

The Assembly vote was met with a standing ovation from Eklutna supporters, but only after Assembly member Amy Demboski and Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler expressed concerns about the city relinquishing power to Eklutna Inc.

"To decide that a corporate entity has the ability to veto what is otherwise considered to be in the public interest and be held essentially in hostage to that veto is bad for my client," Wheeler said.

Nearly 50 people live on the land in question. The village owns some land, as does the corporation, and individual homeowners control the rest.

Eklutna is the only Alaska Native village inside the municipality's boundaries and the oldest continually inhabited Athabascan site in the region. As Stephan, 58, grew up, he watched it change.

"Somewhere in my life I woke up one day and there's an 8-inch gas main going through the heart of the village and a highway behind the community hall," Stephan said. "Before that somebody put a bar that killed a lot of our people just across the street. A water line main went by."

But some parts have stayed the same like the dirt roads that snake around the village, about 26 miles northeast of downtown Anchorage. Outdoor steam baths and smokehouses stand in the yards of many homes.

Curtis McQueen, chief executive of Eklutna, Inc., said the company has cooperated with the city in the past, allowing utilities to dissect Eklutna property and donating land for parks and school buildings. The corporation is the largest landowner in the city.

"I think the community has realized they have a walking, breathing, living museum," McQueen said Wednesday. "We're thrilled."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com