Fairbanks trail advocates, once again Fairbanks trails need your help.
On Thursday, February 23, the Fairbanks Borough Assembly will be addressing the postponed ordinance (Ordinance 2022-47) to adopt the Fairbanks Comprehensive Recreational Trails Plan update. This time there is no scheduled public hearing on the ordinance. However, your voice can still be heard.
I strongly urge people to comment. We had an amazing turnout and email response to the original hearing on the Trails Plan and again to the recently defeated trails easement ordinance. But we need to remind the Assembly that we still care.
I have outlined some ways to be heard below. I have also included some important points to make. Some Assembly members are concerned that the Trails Plan in conjunction the current subdivision laws will violate private property rights. I don’t agree. I believe private property rights are well protected under the current system. But those concerns may be enough to convince some Assembly members to vote against the plan update. We need to try to convince them otherwise.
When commenting, please be civil and respectful. Just because someone has concerns about private property rights does not mean they are anti-trails. When living in a civil society we have to balance out a variety of rights. Let’s focus our energies on convincing any concerned Assembly members that the Trails Plan update does NOT threaten private property rights and that it is a huge benefit for all of us.
Live in Eastern and Southern Borough?
Assemblywoman Barbara Haney made what might be a good point during discussion of the trail easement ordinance. She felt like most testimony in support of the Trails Plan is coming from the Fairbanks urban area and the western and northern parts of the borough. She felt like there was little representation from the southern and eastern parts of the borough. She might be right. I don’t know. If you live in those parts of the borough, make sure to let the Assembly know.
If you are a property owner, let the Assembly know that, too. Since one of the big concerns is the impact on private property, it would be good to know you support the plan AND are a property owner.
HOW TO BE HEARD
As with any Assembly meeting there is time at the beginning for Citizen’s Comments on agenda items not scheduled for public hearing. Anyone wanting to again testify for the Trails Plan can do it during that Citizen’s Comments period. But sign up early to increase your chances of getting to speak. That comment period recesses at 6:50pm and continues later in the meeting. However, in this case, that continuation is after the Trails Plan ordinance on the agenda.
You can also give testimony telephonically. To sign up for that go to this page.
Call or Send Email
You can also call Assembly members or send emails. I strongly urge people to do at least this. The Assembly needs to know we still want the Trails Plan passed. Get Assembly contact information here.
Listen to the Meeting
If you can’t be at the meeting, but want to listen to what’s happening, find out how on this page.
Boro Assembly Meeting Information
The agenda for the meeting can be found here. The trails plan adoption ordinance is Ordinance 2022-47. As of this writing is it number 14a on the agenda. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the Borough Clerk’s Office. They are happy to help.
Even just attending the meeting can help. It’s possible an Assembly member will try to amend the plan. And they may do so in a way that damages the plan. That’s easier to do if no one is watching. (Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the meeting. I will try to comment telephonically if my schedule and connectivity allow. I will definitely send in emails.)
SOME RELEVANT POINTS
Extensive Public Process
The Trails Plan update has had many, many opportunities for public comment. The overwhelming majority of comments have been in favor of the plan
- The plan update process has been extensive. It included several public meetings and a user-friendly website that was up for months where people could comment.
- At the November Assembly meeting, more than 30 people testified, almost all in favor of the plan. None spoke out against the plan as a whole.
- In January, when an ordinance was proposed that would have removed the trail easement protections in the borough subdivision code, more than 25 people spoke out against the ordinance.
- At that meeting, one Assembly member said she received more than 160 emails supporting the trails easement protections, while just 12 spoke against.
Private Property Rights are Protected
The borough has put in many steps in order to protect private property owners. The requirement for giving easements to some trails while subdividing is not onerous or out of step with other subdivision requirements.
- Trails are included on the Trails Plan only through a formal public process during which all affected landowners are contacted and allowed multiple opportunities to object or otherwise comment.
- The borough staff work hard to avoid any conflicts, including with any private property owners.
- The process for including trails in the Trails Plan must pass through several borough boards, each with a public meeting that allows for the public to comment, including the Trails Advisory Commission, the Planning Commission, the Platting Board, and the Borough Assembly.
- Certain trails on the plan do require an easement, but only when the property owner chooses to subdivide. When property owners choose to subdivide, they agree to the subdivision process, which has several requirements, including restricting lot sizes based on zoning, and providing utility easements and legal access to a state-maintained road.
- Interesting note: Assemblywoman Tammie Wilson has requested that the Assembly “obtain outside legal services for an opinion on whether a second class borough can use the platting process to mandate a dedicated easement while subdividing.” Her request is on page 32 of the packet for the Feb 23 meeting.
- The Trails Plan update process, which was open and driven by the public, made every effort to ensure that only consenting property owners were affected by new trails in the plan. Only two of the more than 100 trails on the plan still have proven contentious. (See more about the Trails Plan impact on property below.)
- The updated Trails Plan directs borough staff to resolve issues regarding trails that cross private property and don’t have easements by working WITH landowners to gain easements.
- Some suggested reroutes in the updated Trails Plan were included to get existing trails off private land and onto public land.
- Many trails in the Trails Plan predate the landowners, and even the state. The Trails Plan was originally adopted to keep the government from taking trails from the citizens and selling them to private property owners.
The Many Benefits of Trails
Trails do so much for so little.
- Trails give us many benefits: improved physical and mental health, stronger social ties, increased home values, access to natural resources, a stronger tourism industry, and a stronger local economy.
- Public trails are low-cost, high-access public facilities.
- Most funding for trails in the borough comes from outside the borough budget.
Trails Plan is a Living Document
- The Trails Plan has done much for us, but it needs updating. It was first adopted in 1985 and has not had an overall update since. Lots has changed since then including how trails are built, public interest in trails, and overall development in the borough.
- The Trails Plan is not set in stone. If there are unforeseen problems with it, it can be changed in the future.
Impact of the Trails Plan
(Information gathered by Borough Trails Coordinator Bryant Wright)
- Of all the land parcels in the Fairbanks Borough (about 63,000), less than 5% (about 2,700) are crossed by a trail in the Trails Plan.
- Of those 2,700 parcels, 63% are owned by some branch of government (1,700). Of the remaining 1,000 private parcels, almost all (901 parcels) already have an easement or public access protecting the trails that cross them.
- That leaves just 99 parcels (just 4% of all parcels affected by the Trails Plan) with no current easement or public access.
Very few private properties are affected by the plan. And as I pointed out earlier, only two trails remain problematic. And the Trails Plan update directs borough staff to work WITH property owners to gain easements. The plan is definitely not a threat to private property rights.
Please make time to speak up for the Fairbanks Comprehensive Trails Plan.