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An Anchorage Assemblyman wants to keep state lawmakers' offices downtown

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 9, 2016

An Anchorage Assemblyman wants state lawmakers to keep their Anchorage legislative offices downtown, saying a proposed move to Spenard would go against adopted city plans and zoning codes.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, who represents downtown, has proposed a resolution that points out city policies on locating government offices in the downtown business district. The Assembly is slated to vote on the resolution Tuesday night.

"We want to keep them downtown. It's fundamental to how we see Anchorage developing," Flynn said in an interview. He added: "We're not picky about where they stay downtown."

A legislative committee has been exploring the purchase of the Wells Fargo building in Spenard after an Anchorage Superior Court judge invalidated the Legislature's 10-year lease for its existing, renovated office space on Fourth Avenue. Last month, Gov. Bill Walker said he'd veto a legislative effort to buy the Fourth Avenue building for $32.5 million.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, emphasized that no decision has been made on the Wells Fargo building. He said Monday he was still negotiating on an agreement that the building would be studied for 60 days, halting the search for other properties in the meantime.

Stevens said he appreciated the city's input, but that the move to Spenard was being "driven entirely by cost." He also said the location would be more convenient for lawmakers and constituents.

"When you look at the geographical center of Anchorage, it's certainly not downtown," Stevens said.

He pointed out that the Legislature has had offices in Midtown before -- at 3111 C Street, a building now occupied by Northrim Bank.

But that was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, well before the city adopted the latest version of its comprehensive plan, which is a blueprint for the city's growth. The Legislature moved to its Fourth Avenue building in 1993, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Both the city comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2001, and its new set of land use regulations, which took effect in 2014, specify that government offices should be located in the central business district downtown.

The land use regulations say other locations would require approval from the city planning and zoning commission -- though Flynn said he'd be "very surprised" if the Legislature recognized the planning commission's sovereignty over the legislative process. According to the regulations, the commission would make the ruling that locating the government office outside the central business district "would not be feasible, would not be compatible with the urban center, or would not serve the public interest."

A key downtown business organization, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, sent a letter to Stevens a week ago pointing out the conflict with city policies.

Flynn called his resolution a "pretty gentle" reminder about the city's position. He said there's room for development on the east side of downtown.

"Which would be convenient, the Glenn and the Seward Highway, for legislators coming in from the Valley or South Anchorage," Flynn said.

Myer Hutchinson, a spokesman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, also noted the conflict between the proposed Spenard location and the city's comprehensive plan. He said the city wasn't consulted on the most recent plan -- but he said the city didn't have much say, either.

"We'd hope that government buildings would adhere to the (comprehensive) plan," Hutchinson said. But, he said, "We don't have control over those governments."

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