City compromises on fuel tank controversy in Government Hill

Published: May. 22, 2017 at 9:18 PM AKDT
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After an outcry from the Government Hill neighborhood, the municipality is adding an amendment to a proposed ordinance that would roll back regulations on constructing new fuel tanks at the Port of Anchorage.

The city said the problem stems from changes to the Title 21 zoning laws. The rewrite, enacted in 2016, caused what the municipality described as “unintended consequences,” where the development of new storage containers for hazardous materials, like fuel, could only be constructed within 1,000 feet of residential neighborhoods after a conditional use permitting process.

That new restriction would greatly affect new development at the Port, which is butted up against the Government Hill neighborhood.

“It was a change that we didn't see coming, in that nobody actually caught onto until the Port was talking to new customers and researching land use code and discovered it,” said Director of Office of Economic and Community Development, Chris Schutte.

The original fix to Title 21 put forth by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz proposed alterations tailored specifically to the Government Hill districts by deleting the 1,000 foot buffer zone.

The Government Hill Community Council opposed the changes.

“It almost felt a little bit like a steamroll,” said Government Hill Community Council President Melinda Gant. “A lot of people were questioning why the [ordinance] was moving so quickly.”

The following conflict between the community council and City Hall resulted in an amendment to find a comprise. The amendment still will delete the 1,000 foot buffer zone between Government Hill and the Port and will allow current storage facilities to make safety alterations to current tanks without public input, but any new fuel tanks must undergo public scrutiny by obtaining a conditional use permit from the city.

“The amendment that came out recognized that for the new tanks only, that there should be a public review process. The community should have a chance to weigh in on that,” said Schutte.

The amendment is expected to be submitted at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting.

“This is kind of a compromise, but the Government Hill Community Council is compromising with support to come in the middle to allow the Port to do the work they need to do,” said Gant.

Not everyone got what they wanted, but Mayor Berkowitz said that's how the legislative process should happen.

“We're going to make sure that Government Hill is as safe as we possibly can and at the same time we're going to make sure that the Port is as vital and as vibrant as can be,” said Mayor Berkowitz.