From right-on-red to homelessness to zoning, Anchorage Assembly to vote on a bevy of proposals Tuesday

May 19—The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on numerous proposals during its Tuesday meeting, including prohibiting right-on-red turns downtown, a new South Anchorage city park, additional rules for homeless camps and more.

Here's a roundup of proposals to watch:

Rules for homeless camps

Assembly members Felix Rivera, Daniel Volland and Karen Bronga have proposed changes to the city's code that regulates how it clears homeless camps. This ordinance revives a few of the previously proposed rules that the Assembly rejected last month — but with some major tweaks.

If approved, it would dictate how the city should prioritize which homeless camps to tear down, beginning with 72-hour abatements of camps within 100 feet of "protected land use" areas.

In current code, those areas include paved greenbelt and major trail systems, schools and playgrounds, rehabilitation care facilities, the McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River, community centers, neighborhood recreation centers and athletic fields. The proposal would add licensed child care centers to that list.

The next priority for camp clearing would be any camps with more than 25 tents or makeshift shelter structures, followed by any camps within a half-mile of any licensed homeless shelter.

Additionally, it would reduce the notice period from 15 days to 10 days for campsites that aren't located in protected land use areas. This would be the same amount of time allotted for "zone abatements," which occurs when the city clears a large encampment, or clusters of several campsites in the same area.

The city is experiencing a surge in unsheltered homelessness as its emergency winter homeless sheltering at the Alex and Aviator Hotels winds down. A third location, a mass emergency shelter in the former Solid Waste Services administrative building on 56th Avenue, remains open.

Summer shelter

The Assembly will consider a resolution to allow that mass shelter to operate at its expanded 200-person capacity through Oct. 15.

Under city code, shelters are usually limited to a 150-person max capacity, unless the city makes an exception. Mayor Dave Bronson's administration is proposing to use the 50 additional beds for unsheltered residents whose campsites are cleared by the city this summer.

Two civil rights rulings by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have largely protected homeless residents' right to sleep on public property when there isn't space in shelters. Bronson has said that has paralyzed the city's ability to address unsheltered homelessness, as the city lacks sufficient shelter space for all homeless residents.

Plans to fund the shelter's operations through the summer are in the works — the state Legislature this week approved a budget with $4 million for the shelter — but the period for the governor to veto budget items is not yet over.

No right on red in downtown Anchorage

This proposal from member Volland would prohibit right-on-red turns in much of downtown — the area between Third and Ninth avenues and Gambell and L streets, which is officially called the Central Business Traffic District.

Volland has said the measure aims to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The city is aiming to create a more walkable and bike-able downtown, a key strategy to revitalizing the area.

Potter Marsh Watershed Park

Local nonprofit Great Land Trust and the city have been working together to create a 300-acre conservation park in the foothills just above Potter Marsh in South Anchorage.

Mountain streams that flow down through the area feed Potter Marsh's south end, providing more than 75% of its fresh water. Thus, the name — Potter Marsh Watershed Park.

The Assembly on Tuesday will consider three related ordinances: A measure to transfer slightly more than 100 acres of undeveloped city-owned parcels in the Heritage Land Bank to the Parks and Recreation Department; another for the city to acquire 200 acres of undeveloped land from GCI via the Great Land Trust; and a measure to dedicate a conservation easement for the park.

The city would run and own the park, while the Great Land Trust would hold the conservation easement.

The land is bordered by Golden View Drive to the east and Old Seward Highway to the west. Residents in the area for decades have used the about 3 1/2 miles of informal trails for dog walking, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing.

Assembly powers for setting land use policy

An ordinance proposed by three Assembly members has received opposition from the city's Planning Department and from a vocal group of residents concerned with potential changes to public notice requirements for proposed zoning changes. Many of the same residents have also opposed a set of separately proposed broad zoning changes called the Home Initiative.

[Debate intensifies over proposed Anchorage zoning overhaul]

Tuesday's ordinance arose, in part, due to the Assembly's Home Initiative and the questions and confusion that proposal raised over the process for Assembly-initiated changes to land use, Assembly members Volland and Anna Brawley said.

However, Tuesday's measure is its own piece of legislation, according to Volland and Brawley, who are sponsoring it alongside Vice Chair Meg Zaletel.

Typically, proposed changes to the city's land use code, to the city's comprehensive plan, or an attempt to rezone an area, originate with the city's Planning Department, the Planning and Zoning Commission or a landowner. The proposals ultimately end up with the Assembly for approval or rejection.

"It's really the question of, 'OK, if the Assembly is always the end of the process, then what happens if the Assembly is the beginning of the process?' " Brawley said.

When a landowner wants to rezone their property, the proposal eventually heads to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review, which then makes a recommendation to the Assembly. The city mails public notices about the review to the property and the community council area and physically posts a notice at the property.

Under the ordinance, if approved, when the Assembly makes broader changes to land use code, requiring changes to the zoning map, the city wouldn't send mailed notices to all affected properties, nor would the city physically post a notice on the properties.

That difference had several residents upset who testified at a meeting earlier this month. They said the city should still mail notices, regardless — especially as the Assembly is slated to take up the Home Initiative in June. That legislation would restructure the city's zoning districts from 15 down to 5.

"We're saying, No. 1, that's not really feasible in the modern world to be able to do that when you have a larger-scale update to the zoning map, but we still want to keep public notice on the municipal website and the other requirements," including sending notice to the affected community councils, Volland said. The Home Initiative would require around 63,000 mailed notices, he said.

The city's Planning Department in a memo raised numerous concerns with the ordinance, saying that it "may be unnecessary" and that city code already has clear processes in place.

And it said that the the Assembly is "prohibited" from voting on the measure, because it must first undergo review by the Planning and Zoning Commission, or else the Assembly would "violate the code." It also said that waiving the commission's review "affects the public's participation and trust."

The Assembly meets starting at 5 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers of the Loussac Library at 3600 Denali St. You can find a list of public hearings on Tuesday and details how to testify here. The meetings are streamed on the city's YouTube channel.