The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday approved plans to lease municipal land to a popular Turnagain restaurant for a new parking lot.
The approval came after a tense public hearing at which numerous people who live near the Rustic Goat restaurant testified about traffic problems and fears about accidents in the neighborhood. With the Assembly's go-ahead, the restaurant, operated by Kaladi Brothers Coffee Co., can begin building a 28-space parking lot on a vacant stretch of land on the southeast corner of Northern Lights Boulevard and Turnagain Street.
With its popularity exceeding expectations, the restaurant has been plagued by parking woes and friction with neighbors over customers parking on the nearby neighborhood streets.
Members of the Assembly, while lauding the success of the business, agreed the Rustic Goat has compounded already-existing infrastructure problems in the neighborhood -- namely, narrow streets without sidewalks.
Previously, those problems were more manageable, said Assembly member Tim Steele, who represents West Anchorage. "This just adds another dimension."
Several Assembly members supported postponing a vote on the parking lot until other solutions could be considered. But those who wanted to vote right away argued that a delay could worsen the safety problems described by neighbors.
"Safety is above everything else," said Assembly member Amy Demboski, who represents Chugiak-Eagle River.
More than 15 people testified at the meeting about the ordinance, with the majority speaking about traffic issues. Several argued the parking lot would only worsen the problem by bringing in more business to the restaurant. Others decried a lack of public notice about the plans.
Bob Curtis-Johnson has lived in Turnagain since 1983. He spoke up for the preservation of the green space, telling the Assembly he and his daughter play games and Frisbee there, and neighbors use it as a park.
"It's actually a lovely little swath of greenbelt," Johnson said.
Some neighbors spoke more generally about traffic problems, painting a tense picture of people walking in the middle of the roadway and cars pulling out sharply into traffic. More than one person said they thought the project was poorly planned.
The developer, James Brooks, addressed the Assembly and refuted characterizations about poor planning, calling them "ironic."
"This project was in the process for two years," Brooks said.
Another neighbor, Liz Smith, said she enjoys and frequents the Rustic Goat. She said she saw the parking lot as a necessary solution. But before the lot is built, she said, "no parking" signs should go up in the neighborhood -- echoing others who called for Turnagain Street to become a "no-parking" zone entirely.
Steele said the new parking lot is part of a broader fix that should include enforcement and better signage, along with the future redevelopment of Turnagain Street.
Vicki Russell lives one block west of the restaurant and testified against the original zoning exemption for the restaurant more than two years ago. She handed the Assembly a list of problems surrounding the restaurant and possible solutions. Some of those solutions included installing speed limit signs and mirrors, and limiting the restaurant's hours. She said she also would support valet parking.
After the meeting, Russell said she felt ambivalent about the plans for the new parking lot.
"What it's doing is moving the problem," she said. "There's still the problem; it's moving it into some people's backyards."
The restaurant's managers had pledged to begin building the parking lot upon Assembly approval.