The Fairbanks Borough Comprehensive Recreational Trails Plan update is still working its way through the local legislative process.
The Fairbanks Borough Assembly has sent the plan update back to the Platting Board with some requirements due back by June 8. The Assembly is also looking more thoroughly into whether the borough has the right to require trail easements during the subdivision process.
PROPERTY RIGHTS AND EASEMENTS
Passage of the plan update has been contentious with debate focusing almost solely on the requirement of easements.
Five members of the Assembly – Tammie Wilson, Barbara Haney, Jimmie Cash, Brett Rotermund, and Aaron Lojewski – have made it clear they support stripping the current ability to require easements for some trails during the subdivision process. They have said they are not anti-trails but are pro-private property rights.
The other four Assembly members – Savannah Fletcher, Kristan Kelly, Mindy O’Neall, and David Guttenberg – have supported passage of the plan update in its current form. They have said they feel property rights are already protected by the existing plan and plan update.
The plan does not give itself the power to require easements. Rather, that is in Title 17, the section of borough law dealing with subdivisions and other easement requirements. The Assembly already tried to change Title 17 but voted that down after Mayor Bryce Ward made it clear he would veto the change. See my previous post.
(I have been wanting to report more on this issue, but I fell ill after the Feb. 23 meeting and lost more than a week. I have been trying to play catch up ever since. Fortunately, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reporter Jack Barnwell has had some good coverage.)
FEB 23 ASSEMBLY MEETING – PLAN UPDATE REFERRED TO PLATTING BOARD
At its Feb. 23 meeting, the Assembly voted to refer the Trails Plan update to the borough Platting Board with a recommendation due back no later than June 8. On a 5-4 vote – with Fletcher, Kelly, O’Neal, and Guttenberg dissenting – the Assembly approved a motion by Assemblywoman Tammie Wilson, which had two parts:
Borough staff must produce a map that shows “property lines and roadways so landowners can identify any impacted parcels they own.”
The maps produced by the trail plan update show roads and other features and some maps show some property lines, but none show all property lines. At the meeting, Borough Trails Coordinator Bryant Wright indicated he could create such a map but that it would require a bit of effort considering the size of the borough and the number of trails.
Borough staff must come up with three alternative ways that show “Category A and B trails connecting without forcing landowners to give up their property in the platting process.”
This will be trickier. The trails plan has three categories of trails: A, B, and C. A and B trails are considered of statewide and regional significance, respectively. (C trails are of neighborhood significance.) According to Title 17, A and B trails currently require an easement if the land they run across is subdivided. Wilson apparently wants to have possibilities to reroute any A and B trails off any properties that could conceivably be subdivided. (Some properties cannot be subdivided, such as properties that are already as small as zoning regulations allow.)
However, routing trails off one piece of property means they would have to be routed onto another piece of property. If that property is public land (federal, state, or borough) would that be acceptable? Public landowners must still provide an easement if the land is subdivided. And if trails can be routed only onto other pieces of private property, that would put the easement onus onto those properties.
At that meeting, the Assembly also made other changes to the plan.
- The Ace Lakes Connector Trail (IC9 in the trails plan update) was removed from the plan. This trail has proven contentious. Some people have devised an informal reroute, which appears to be working for now. It might be added to the plan at a later date.
- The conceptual Nenana Uplands Forest Traverse Trail (IAR-9 in the plan) was rerouted to provide more of a buffer to neighboring private property.
- Another amendment clarified that the borough would not use eminent domain to secure trail easements. That issue is not contentious as the borough has never used eminent domain for trail easements and has no plans to do so.
See the News-Miner story here.
FEB 27 TRAILS ADVISORY COMMISSION MEETING – WRIGHT GIVES UPDATE
Borough Trails Coordinator Bryant Wright gave an update to the Trails Advisory Commission at its Feb. 27 meeting.
Wright told the TAC about the instructions from the Assembly (the new map showing trails and property lines, and the three alternatives for A and B trails). He pointed out that the plan already requires that the staff be proactive about obtaining trail easements and that the Title 17 is considered a last resort.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to sit down with this assembly member and understand what’s needed there and what’s being asked for,” Wright said, according to the News-Miner. “We’ll work with the mayor’s office, assembly and platting board to come up with something.”
Any changes will likely require a public hearing, which would probably be in May, since the Assembly amendment required that a recommendation is due back no later than June 8.
See the News-Miner story here.
MARCH 9 ASSEMBLY MEETING – REQUEST FOR OPINION ON EASEMENTS
At its March 9 meeting, the Assembly voted to hire legal counsel from outside the borough administration to determine whether a second-class borough can use the platting process to mandate a dedicated easement while subdividing. The request was made by Assemblywoman Wilson.
Borough Attorney Jill Dolan provided a legal analysis to Wilson, but Wilson said it left a lot of questions as to whether trails were included in those powers. She said she wanted a third-party opinion from outside the borough administration. Specifically, she requested that Ketchikan attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen be hired.
According to the News-Miner, Brandt-Erichsen is a “former attorney for the Municipality of Anchorage and the Ketchikan-Gateway Borough” and he “now works at Ketchikan law firm Keene & Currall and specializes in municipal law.” Dolan said she thought Brandt-Erichsen is a good choice and estimated that his services will probably run about $3,000.
Approval for funds to hire the attorney was passed 5-4, with Fletcher, Kelly, O’Neal, and Guttenberg dissenting.
See the News-Miner story here.
That’s it for now. I will continue reporting more as things develop.