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Big Lake incorporation effort creates conflict with Houston annexation plans

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- The state Local Boundary Commission is taking the unusual step of combining bids to make Big Lake a second-class city and to annex nearly 2 ½ square miles into the City of Houston.

The two proposals from the neighboring communities in a growing part of the Valley overlap when it comes to one thing: a slightly more than 1,500-acre parcel owned by Knikatnu Inc., a Wasilla-based Alaska Native village corporation.

Knikatnu last year started the process of having the parcel annexed into Houston because of “potential for preferred zoning” and a significantly lower tax rate than what's offered by the Mat-Su Borough as well as the "future city" of Big Lake, according to a 2013 resolution from the Knikatnu board of directors. The land straddles part of a planned rail extension from Port MacKenzie to the Alaska Railroad line near Houston.

But the rest of the Knikatnu land falls outside of Houston -- and inside an area Big Lake incorporation backers want in their proposed city, which is based on an existing Mat-Su Borough road service area. 

Because of the shared property, the state’s Local Boundary Commission decided to combine the two proposals, at least in terms of bureaucratic actions such as public meetings, reports and scheduling.

The state commission could approve Houston’s bid and give them the property, approve Big Lake’s bid and give them the property, or “it can find that both of them don’t meet the standards and deny both,” said Brice  Eningowuk, a local government specialist with the commission.

It’s unusual for the boundary commission to consolidate petitions, Eningowuk said. But statute allows the commission chair to combine separate bids if they share boundaries.

Both bids were started last year.

Some Big Lake residents say the time has come for that unincorporated area of nearly 3,400 people to become a second-class city and spend grant money and local property tax dollars on schools, public safety, transportation projects and local roads. They also want more say over big projects such as the rail extension and prospects that a Knik Arm bridge could route new traffic through the area.

Fans of incorporation last year failed to get the requisite 234 signatures to start the process, Eningowuk said. But they submitted 263 signatures to the commission in January and the incorporation decision process started.

The City of Big Lake would measure 113 square miles -- 13 of them water.

Knikatnu last year began petitioning Houston for annexation. The corporation also hopes to bring a light bulb plant to land it owns inside city limits, city officials say.

The village corporation is seeking a rezone to heavy industrial from agricultural and residential on 640 acres within Houston. The city planning commission in a 3-1 vote July 31 recommended the rezone. The city council will introduce the zone change at a meeting Thursday.

The state commission is scheduled to hold an information meeting on the incorporation and annexation petitions on Sept. 23, with a tentative location of Houston High School.

Information on both petitions is expected to be posted online soon.