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Consultants present master plan for Unit 395

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Courtesy Photo
RESPEC's master plan for Unit 395, presented for the first time this week.

The borough-contracted engineering group assessing a 1,000-acre plot west of Cooper Landing has settled on a master plan for the public land development that proposes recreation, material extraction and a housing subdivision.

Unit 395, also known as Juneau Bench, was recently transferred from the state to borough management. It’s a 2-mile by 1-mile parcel that will one day be bisected by the Cooper Landing Bypass project.

At a meeting on March 8 hosted both virtually and in-person at the Cooper Landing Community Hall, engineering consulting company RESPEC presented their vision for the parcel, based on a series of meetings and surveys of Cooper Landing residents.

Since RESPEC began working on the project, a prominent theme has been affordable housing. But Marcus Mueller, the borough’s land management officer, said the community has generally decided Unit 395 is not the place to create that affordable housing.

In the master plan proposed to the borough, there is a residential subdivision area for homes with 40 one-acre lots and a community septic system. But Mueller said that subdivision won’t come to be for a long time.

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Courtesy Photo
A closeup of the proposed residential subdivision in Unit 395.

“Development up there is going to be rather expensive, so there’s going to be a fair amount of development costs going into any lots,” he said. “They would also be highly desirable because of the scenic views of that location.”

He said a lot more discussion has to happen before anything is finalized for the development aspect. The consultants put out an affordable housing report, summarizing the borough’s other affordable housing projects and comparing Cooper Landing to other cities with similar constraints.

Next to the proposed subdivision is the planned location of Alaska’s first highway wildlife overpass, a project designed to get wildlife safely over the roadway. Several members of the public expressed their concern about wildlife traveling right into a new housing development.

The proposal also includes a new public trail system for hiking or snowmachining, and isn’t far from the Resurrection Pass Trail. Mueller said the community is in agreement about those recreational opportunities.

“That area has a lot of recreational uses existing, and preserving and maybe even accentuating recreational opportunities in that area seems to have a lot of support,” he said.

Cooper Landing residents have expressed concerns since the beginning about any development at the site connecting to the bypass and becoming a separate community. In response, consultants proposed a plan that would connect the new development to the current community of Cooper Landing via a Forest Service road, and would not connect the subdivision to the bypass, even though it will cut close by.

The project plans do include emergency on- and off-ramps from the bypass into the new development, but Mueller said they’ll be gated off and not available to residents.

“They’re viewed as an emergency access, they’re not viewed as being day-to-day on- and off-ramps that you would use as a subdivision,” he said.

There are also three potential resource extraction sites as part of the project: one gravel pit and two hardrock mining sites. Much of Unit 395 also falls within the Sqilantnu Archeological District, and Mueller said the borough still needs to investigate and decide how it would manage that aspect of the parcel.

Mueller said the consultants expect to release a final proposed plan and map in about two months, which will then go up for public review and comment.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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