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Unit 395 plans come into greater focus

Four maps of possible plans for Unit 395, presented at the Cooper Landing Community Hall.
Riley Board
Four maps of possible plans for Unit 395, presented at the Cooper Landing Community Hall.

Cooper Landing residents heard early-stage development ideas for a massive parcel of borough-managed land west of the community this week.

Unit 395, also known as Juneau Bench, is a 1,000-acre parcel, bisected by the Sterling Highway bypass project. Back in September, Fairbanks-based consulting company RESPEC gathered community input on potential uses for the land, which included housing, recreation, wildlife preservation and commercial development.

Yesterday, Nov. 16, representatives from the company returned to the Cooper Landing Community Hall to present takeaways from that session, and put forth rough ideas for the parcel based on that feedback.

Megan Flory, a community and sustainability planner with RESPEC, explained that a set of new maps give a sense of where housing development might be possible on the parcel. There are physical constraints of the topography, like hills and wetlands.

“There’s stuff over here that we just couldn’t feasibly build on,” Flory said, pointing to a western area of the parcel. “Over on the eastern half is the flatter area where we could potentially build.”

There’s also a set of four different proposed maps for the development. There’s one that’s entirely recreation area, one with a small amount of housing and a commercial area, one with housing and new roads, and one with extensive housing.

RESPEC is seeking feedback on these plans, which are rough ideas that allow the community to weigh in on different uses of the land.

“This step is refining the big ideas we got last time into,” Flory said. “Physically where do people want things to go? What is there strong, strong support for, strong, strong opposition for? And hoping the community will point to the map and say ‘This is where something should go.”’

There’s relative consensus that Cooper Landing needs more affordable housing, but opinion is mixed on whether Unit 395 is the place to put it.

Early in the evening, attendees seemed to favor plans that prioritize recreation over housing. Landscape architect Chris Mertl said he’s not surprised by that.

“We know that change is difficult,” he said. “People in the community are big on recreation, and recreation can provide a lot of economic opportunities, we understand that. But if we go all recreation, then we aren’t solving the housing problem. So it’s a matter of finding that balance.”

Flory said community members are clear that they’re not interested in Unit 395 being a place for businesses.

“A lot of opposition to any sort of economic activity, like retail or commercial activity directly on the parcel, because it risks creating a new town,” they said.

Based on the information they learn this week, RESPEC will host another workshop in January, where they’ll be prepared with more refined plans, including the potential number of housing lots that could fit on the property.

RESPEC is working toward a report about the community’s desires for the parcel, which they plan to release by the summer. They’ll present that report to the public, the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Commission, and the borough.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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