The Fairbanks Borough Planning Commission will deal with two items on Tuesday, Aug 8, that would have an impact on trails. One has an open public hearing, while the other has a limited public hearing.
For both issues, you can always contact Planning Commission members by phone or email. Find their contact information under “Members and Contact Information” HERE. You can see the meeting agenda HERE.
Proposed Creamer’s Trailhead off Farmer’s Loop
I wrote about this in the recent Interior Trails Newsletter. You can see the larger story HERE.
The Interior Alaska Land Trust is proposing to build a trailhead, with parking, just off Farmer’s Loop Road that would provide access to Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge. To do that, the trust needs a conditional use permit that must be approved by the Planning Commission.
This is a quasi-judicial hearing and so public testimony is limited. Basically, if you don’t already know about it, you probably can’t testify. But you can check under “Testify on A Quasi-Judicial Hearing Agenda Item” on this PAGE. And you can always let Planning Commission members know how you feel (though I’ve been told even that might not be allowed). (See second paragraph above for contact information.)
There have been rumblings that some people feel the trailhead and proposed trails would have negative impacts on wildlife habitats. Others believe the improvements would add an important access point to the refuge without undue harm to wildlife.
Ordinance Would Damage Comprehensive Planning
Ordinance 2023-30, submitted by Assemblywoman Barbara Haney, would drastically change comprehensive planning in the borough. It will have an open public hearing. If you want to comment on it and can’t make the meeting, you can always let Planning Commission members know how you feel. (See second paragraph above for contact information.)
This ordinance would gut the Fairbanks borough comprehensive planning process. I urge people to speak out against it.
A key part of the ordinance is a single line that would allow property owners to opt out of planning documents for anything that is to be “dedicated for public purposes, such as a park, trail or road.”
Other parts of the ordinance would change how affected landowners would be contacted and would require the borough to pay for required easements, though wording in the ordinance is unclear as to whether payment would be for just trail easements or trail and road easements. (Read the proposed ordinance HERE.)
But let’s consider that key opt-out line. I am uncertain if property owners can opt out at any time or only when a new plan is being adopted. In any case, the proposed ordinance would turn any comprehensive plan into an UN-comprehensive plan. Theoretically, all landowners could opt out, making the planning process useless. Even if some opt in, the plan would be patchwork, defeating the concept of a comprehensive plan.
The Fairbanks Comprehensive Trail Plan update recently passed, so it’s possible it may be protected. However, this ordinance could affect future updates. The Fairbanks Comprehensive Roads Plan, which is in process and has not yet been adopted, would definitely be affected.
I know Assemblywoman Haney is trying to respond to concerns by property owners who feel they shouldn’t be told what to do with their property or who feel they haven’t been properly contacted about the roads plan or the recently passed trails plan. I appreciate Assemblywoman Haney’s concern, but her solution does far too much damage.
I believe Assemblywoman Haney is trying to address problems with small private property owners, but her solution will affect ALL property owners in the borough. The largest landholders are public or semi-public agencies such as the State of Alaska, the federal government, the University of Alaska, and the Mental Health Trust.
From a trails aspect, consider what would happen if all landowners could opt out of a comprehensive trails plan. Trails that the public had been using for years, including those on public lands, could suddenly become off limits. Or sections in the middle of those trails could become off limits.
It’s also about local control. Under current laws, landowners must follow plans set forth by Fairbanksans, both the government officials and all the citizens who have participated in the public process. If we let all landowners opt out of comprehensive plans, we also turn over local control to the heads of agencies and corporations who live outside of Fairbanks.
I feel less strongly about the other provisions of the ordinance, but I still have strong concerns about them. One aspect would require that the borough pay for dedicated easements required by the comprehensive plans. According to the Planning Department people have not complained about not getting paid for easements. Should we start spending borough funds for something that has not been a problem? Is that fiscally responsible?
Other provisions would require first class mailings instead of postcards and would increase the scope of some mailings. Both would increase borough costs. A few people have claimed they have not had sufficient notice, but I don’t believe it is a widespread problem. Is that a reason to increase costs for everyone in the borough? I might be convinced, but I’m skeptical.
In the end, I feel this ordinance has too many flaws. I wish I could support it, because I know Assemblywoman Haney has good intentions, but I can’t. Please either attend the Planning Commission meeting or let the commission members know you oppose this ordinance. (See second paragraph above for contact information.)
The Planning Department is also recommending denial of the ordinance. Read the department report HERE.