Anchorage

Some Anchorage homeowners don't pay taxes for park upkeep. An assemblyman wants to change that.

Unlike most of Anchorage, some pockets of the eastern Hillside don't pay taxes for park maintenance — a quirk of the city's evolution that a city Assemblyman wants to ask voters to change.

South Anchorage Assemblyman John Weddleton said he's long heard frustrations about trash, overflowing parking and trespassing on private property by people looking for ways into Chugach State Park. But some of the complaints come from property owners in neighborhoods like Bear Valley and Stuckagain Heights. Many of those residents don't pay taxes for park maintenance, limiting the ways the city can respond, Weddleton said.

Next week, Weddleton will introduce to the Assembly an ordinance that would expand the city's parks and recreation service area to include the entire Hillside. Weddleton hopes his proposal will appear on the April city ballot.

Higher taxes aren't popular, especially in South Anchorage, Weddleton said. To pass, the measure would need approval from two groups: a majority of voters within the current service area, as well as the majority of the voters in the untaxed area.

But Weddleton said the changes would give the city options when it comes to settling clashes over private property and public access.

"For most of the city, it's a no-brainer out of fairness" that the entire Hillside should pay taxes for park maintenance, Weddleton said. But a "huge amount of self-interest" has been generated among Hillside homeowners over the years, he said.

Example: the often-packed parking lot off Honeybear Lane that offers access to McHugh Peak, Weddleton said. He also noted parking problems associated with the longstanding use of the private Stewart's Homestead Road as a way into Potter Valley.

"The problems they're facing with people parking in their streets and using private property will not stop," Weddleton said. "So what we need to do is give good, functioning alternatives."

Some property owners have wanted to donate land to the city for a park, with the idea that the city would maintain it. That also isn't possible if the land is outside the service area, Weddleton said.

The current boundary zig-zags along the eastern edge of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the Anchorage Hillside.

Weddleton's measure would add nearly 1,000 parcels in Stuckagain Heights and the southeast part of the Hillside, which includes Bear Valley. The estimated value of the properties is nearly $300 million, according to Weddleton's ordinance. Weddleton said he wasn't yet sure how many people live in those parcels.

If the measure passes, the property owners would pay a combined $121,150 a year in taxes for parks and recreation.

John Rodda, director of city parks and recreation, said the existing boundary dates back to the unification of the city and borough of Anchorage in the 1970s.

Back then, there was very little development on the upper Hillside, Rodda said. He recalled a high school teacher whose home on the Hillside was one of the area's "lone lights."

Far more lights dot the Hillside now. And Rodda said he and his staff are increasingly running into requests for more services from residents whose homes fall outside the existing park service area.

One man wanted a special trail connection. Other property owners wanted to donate land and create a park to be maintained by the city, Rodda said.

But if the land is outside the city's parks and recreation service area, the city can't dedicate tax revenue to maintain it, Rodda said. Those projects also can't be included in bond packages, he said.

Before he was elected to the Assembly, Weddleton was a longtime member of the Home and Landowners Association, known as HALO, an advocacy group for the Anchorage Hillside. He noted that the Hillside's master plan recommends expanding the service area.

"You're not going to stop people from searching out new ways into the wilderness, so how do you deal with it in a way that helps the property owners?" Weddleton said.

Weddleton said he plans to tour community councils and organizations like the Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board in the coming weeks to talk about his proposal.

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