News from Patrick Flynn

Campbell Creek complications

Yesterday morning’s article in the local paper provides a pretty good synopsis of the circumstances surrounding the Campbell Creek estuary.  For those unfamiliar with the issue, here’s a little background:

  • The Great Land Trust, which provides an essential service for area developers by obtaining and protecting lands and waterways in part to mitigate for other developments, has been working for several years to purchase 60 acres that include the Campbell Creek estuary (the area between Campbell Lake and Cook Inlet) and some adjacent uplands owned by descendants of two families.  GLT proposes to then obtain a conservation easement for the land and donate it to the city for use as a park.
  • While the Municipality of Anchorage has been a partner in this process during most of that time, last month the mayor announced the city was withdrawing its support, including $2.7 in federal mitigation monies (which must be used for mitigation of some sort).  The mayor’s concerns centered on the cost of maintaining the new parkland and the loss of potentially developable land for additional housing (the uplands).
  • Shortly thereafter the mayor reversed course, somewhat, proposing that the sale be restructured allowing the estuary portion of the land (40-45 acres) to become parkland while the uplands portion (15-20 acres) would be purchased by the Anchorage Community Development Authority with the intent of future development.  Some of the mitigation dollars could then be shifted to a Coastal-Ship Creek trail connection project.
  • Friday’s work session allowed both the mayor and GLT to present their perspectives on the matter.

Readers might be surprised to learn that I think the mayor’s most recent idea makes some sense.  First off, I concur that connecting the Coastal and Ship Creek trails is a terrific idea.  And the mayor correctly notes that the estuary portion of the land probably can’t be developed no matter who owns it.  He is wrong about maintenance costs, as GLT-raised endowment funds would relieve the city of that financial burden.  Finally, reasonable minds can disagree whether development of the uplands is a good idea and, were that an option, I’d welcome a thoughtful and spirited community debate on the issue.  The problem there, and the fundamental problem with the mayor’s proposal, is said upland development isn’t much of an option.  Here’s why:

  • Available funds: of the $6.8 million raised by the GLT to purchase the land and establish the trust to maintain it at least $4.8 million would disappear under the new terms proposed by the mayor.
  • Fiscal viability of ACDA: I sit as an ex-officio member of the ACDA board.  While I don’t pretend to know every nook and cranny of that entity I do know this; despite positive cash flow ACDA has been posting paper losses (due to asset depreciation) for years.  Presuming they have the cash or credit to carry the portion of the deal requested by the mayor, it’s hard to see how holding the uplands portion of the property could avoid further erosion of ACDA’s bottom line.  By the same token, tying up ADCA equity in this manner would negatively impact their ability to repair and replace the parking garages they manage in downtown Anchorage.  (Note: GLT officials identified parcels south of the Campbell Creek estuary with characteristics very similar to the uplands in question.  Those lots, while long available for development, have lain fallow for years.)
  • (Non)-willing sellers: all eight parties selling this property apparently insist that it be sold in one piece.  Further, at least three of the eight ownership parties insist on a conservation easement.  Splitting the sale, or reserving a portion for development, may not be possible.
  • Time constraints: we have until November 30 to culminate this transaction.  The GLT worked in good faith to vet the viability of the mayor’s proposal and found it impossible to execute in the time available.

Put another way, if the mayor wanted a different structure for this land sale he probably should’ve started working on it long ago.  While it’s understandable that he somehow didn’t know about it upon assuming office (even though the area in question is at the southern end of his former Assembly district), he should have had some inkling when his city manager authored a letter of project support in March (intended to support a grant application).  Instead, his concerns only came to light in the last month.

In the end the Assembly can’t force the mayor to execute this deal, either under the terms initially proposed by GLT or those more recently proposed by the mayor.  We can encourage him to move forward as the GLT proposes, but it’s ultimately his call and he might choose to forgo this opportunity and seek a future deal on his terms.  If so, it’s possible another buyer (presumably private sector) might make the purchase and develop the uplands much as the mayor desires.  In that scenario the buyer would be under no obligation to grant access to the estuary and could prevent other neighbors from enjoying the access proposed in the GLT plan.

So now what?  I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Assembly resolution surface for consideration and, if so, I suspect it will encourage the mayor to accept the terms proposed by GLT.  Either way we’ll all get to sit back and watch the mayor cogitate on that age-old question comparing the value of a bird in hand to two in the bush.



This contribution was made on Sunday, 15. August 2010 at 03:34 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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