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Airport beats out city for 131-acre federal property along Raspberry Road

Nathaniel Herz

The federal government is transferring a 131-acre property along Raspberry Road to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport -- giving the airport room for expansion and a bargaining chip in its ongoing land trade discussions with the city.

The federal property sits on both sides of Raspberry Road on the airport's southern edge. The city and the airport had submitted competing applications to the General Services Administration, the federal government's landlord arm, with the city seeking land for a public works facility.

A separate city proposal to develop housing for homeless people on the land was withdrawn last fall following vocal neighborhood opposition.

In a letter to Mayor Dan Sullivan and Airport Manager John Parrott on April 7, the GSA said that in spite of several meetings between the city and the airport, "the parties were unable to find a way to accommodate both their needs."

"The GSA had hoped that you could have worked something out," the letter says.

Sullivan said in an interview Tuesday that the city had been unlikely to receive the property all along.

"We knew from the start that the airport would have the first shot, if you will," he said. "It's adjacent to their land. It fits into their long-term master plan. So it wasn't a surprise that they made that decision."

Parrott said in an interview that the airport had been seeking the property, which was formerly used by the Federal Communications Commission, for six years.

The city, Parrott added, had only become interested in the land within the last year.

The airport, part of the state Department of Transportation, has no immediate plans to develop the property. But the award of the parcel, which jutted into the airport's southern edge, will make development much easier if it's ultimately necessary, Parrott said.

One likely use of the section north of Raspberry Road would be for new hangars and maintenance areas for regional and private planes, Parrott said. That infrastructure is already present along the southern edge of the airport's property, but the federal land makes room for expansion if demand increases.

"By acquiring that piece, we can do much more logical and methodical development," Parrott said. "We are here for the 50- to 100-year time frame."

The chunk of land to the south of Raspberry Road, near Kincaid Park, could be developed for industrial or other uses, Parrott said.

But the airport is also exploring trading that part of the property to the city for use as a park. Any transfer would have to be compatible with future airport development, which may ultimately include a new runway that could require removal of trees or even terrain.

Federal restrictions, Parrott added, do not allow the airport to give away property, so any transfer to the city would likely be part of a land exchange, he said.

"We have to figure out a way to keep the airport whole, or cause the airport no negative impact," said Parrott, who acknowledged that the parcel could be seen as a bargaining chip.

A land trade task force with airport, city and neighborhood representatives has been meeting since December.

The city currently uses several pieces of airport property as parkland, including portions of the Coastal Trail. Another airport parcel is used as a city snow dump.

The airport, meanwhile, is looking for land for expansion.

David Landry, an Anchorage resident who has closely followed the land trade talks, said he was worried that the airport's acquisition of new property would give it more leverage in its negotiations with the city.

"Once land goes into the airport, it's gone," he said. "They're looking out for the airport, and the airport alone."

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com