This past Thursday’s borough assembly meeting included two politically-charged items of business. The first was the assembly’s acceptance of a $12 million conservation easement for the establishment of two regional parks — one at Termination Point (the land opposite Ft. Abercrombie at the opposite side of Monashka Bay) and the second at Long Island, four miles offshore from downtown Kodiak. The second contentious item was the inclusion of a 3.5-acre wooded parcel of land previously zoned Public Use and now being prepared to be sold at the borough’s April public land auction.
The conservation easement action item began with over an hour of constant testimony from members of the borough assembly audience (including a caller from Abu Dhabi, UAE) in support of accepting the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) conservation easements. These easements (which provide both public access and prohibit Leisnoi from logging the lands) include a detailed written agreement requiring signatures from the federal government, state government, local government, Leisnoi management (and possibly others).
So the strategy of the contrarians on the assembly was to ignore the overwhelming public support for this measure and stall for time, as EVOSTC had stated that unless the borough approved these easements before early next year, the EVOSTC offer was off the table. And assembly member Kyle Crow did this by introducing an amendment to change the current written agreement, not in a particularly substantive manner, but enough to cause the agreement to again have go before all the parties … likely leading to EVOSTC withdrawing its offer before all the signatures could be gotten and thus killing the agreement.
However, with a 3-3 tie vote as to whether or not to require amending the current agreement, Mayor Dan Rohrer cast the tie-breaking assembly vote to not require a change — leading to the defeat of the stalling tactic and eventual approval of the conservation easements.
A second example of the willful disregard of public opinion came later in the meeting from four assembly members when they elected to place a wooded 3.6-acre lot on the corner of Sheratin Road and Rezanof Drive on the block for sale at this April’s public land auction. Previously the land had been zoned Public Use, the Planning & Zoning Commission had recommended not selling the property, and sale of this property was not on the borough’s Comprehensive Plan.
But in what can only be described (politely) as an embarrassingly ill-informed discussion, the assembly directed the borough planning staff to amend the borough’s “Comprehensive Plan” and the Planning and Zoning Commission to change the zoning on this parcel so that it could be sold for residential development, contrary to the stated wishes of a petition signed by three dozen or so neighborhood residents.
This action by the borough assembly is only the latest in a litany of borough assembly actions to identify any parcel of land with trees growing on it and which could be zoned for residential development and to then sell it off for development to a local contractor and/or land speculator — the desires of the community be hanged. Insofar as this being an effort to provide “affordable housing” and/or “owner-builder housing”, this is clearly so much prodigious piffle (viz, a ruse); as in the last 10 years or so, only about five or so borough residences have actually been owner-built, at least according to the borough planning department when they were asked during a recent assembly meeting.
So as the assembly rezones neighborhood greenbelt areas and public-use districts and these disappear — and adjacent land values deteriorate along with the quality of life for the neighborhood — it may be time to consider appealing to the courts this assembly’s orchestrated litany of decisions: decisions that consistently benefit wealthy developers and speculators in our community while inexorably deteriorating the character of our neighborhoods.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.
Jeff Stewart is a retired project manager and former member of the KIBSD Board of Education.