Town council postpones decision on CIRI property
Members to reconvene with legal counsel
Despite lengthy deliberations, the Indian Head Town Council decided to delay its ruling on the CIRI property amendment at a public hearing on Thursday, choosing to consult legal counsel and reconvene at a later date.
Steve Scott of Scott Law Group, along with David Cooksey and Cathy Flerlage of Soltesz engineering firm, spoke to the council on behalf of Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI), the applicant in the proceedings. An Alaska Native corporation, CIRI bought the parcel at auction in 1987 for $880,000 from the federal government. The company is seeking to adjust the zoning classification of the roughly 19acre plot of land.
The property is currently splitzoned, with approximately 7 acres zoned as open space (OS) and the rest zoned as Town Center Mixed-Use (TCMX). The purpose of OS zoning is to protect land for environmental reasons and also preserve it for public works purposes, like libraries and golf courses. The amendment would abolish the divided zoning and make the area entirely TCMX, allowing CIRI owners to move forward with development plans for the property.
The Indian Head Planning Commission approved the amendment in March after a public hearing in February. The town council held a similar meeting to receive concerns from the community, but hesitated to make a decision when their lawyer failed to arrive. Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin moved to keep the record open and the council will deliver its ruling at a special meeting scheduled for June 21 at the Village Green Pavilion.
“It’s just easier for us to consult with legal,” said Councilman Curtis Smith. “While he’s there, we can make sure all procedures are being followed and make sure we are doing everything correctly going forward.”
Before the council moved to put off its resolution, CIRI’s team presented its argument for the amendment. They explained that the description of the property doesn’t fit with the typical qualifications of an OS-zoned area, namely that the land is privately owned and intended for housing.
“There’s a need to make certain assumptions regarding the ownership and the highest and best use of a parcel of land, in our reasonable interpretation of the OS zone,” Scott said. “The OS zone is intended for public or quasi-public open space or recreational, or something open or preserved for the benefit of the public in some way ... This is a privately owned property, it’s in an area designated by the comprehensive land use plan for high-density development.”
This inconsistency led Scott to conclude an error was made in zoning the property. He explained the OS zoning did not exist when the CIRI group purchased the land and had to have been added at some point during their ownership. While CIRI may be responsible for keeping up with changes made to the zoning of their property, Scott reasoned it shouldn’t affect the legitimacy of their claim.
“Whether or not CIRI even knew about it does not negate the argument of a mistake,” Scott said. “We still believe if a mistake existed or a mistake occurred, that gives the land owner the legal right to seek a rezoning.”
CIRI plans to build 164 townhouse units on the property, which is across from Indian Head Elementary School and Charlie Wright Park. Cooksey described the area using four concept maps and added the group would lose 40 to 45 units if the zoning classification is not changed.
The town council opened the floor to community input after Scott and Cooksey’s presentation, but conversation strayed from the zoning issue. Smith pointed out the meeting was strictly for discussion of the zoning issue, not what would be built on the property, yet concerned citizens focused on traffic and housing concerns.
“The statement was made that Dr. Andrews Way would be the only way that this supposed new community would be able to get in and out of their community,” said Jacqueline McClary of the Villages of Potomac at Indian Head. “Dr. Andrews Way is the only way that we get out, which means there would be even more traffic in that area for the residents in that community.”
McClary went on to say increased traffic could be a safety issue given that many children use the nearby basketball courts and playground. Cooksey had previously mentioned a traffic study of the area would be done with the results dictating how the group moved forward. Smith assured McClary that the town would explore speed bumps and other strategies to control traffic in the area.
Even though the development plans have already been approved by the planning commission, one resident requested an adjustment to the proposal.
“I would just ask that the town reconsider their townhouses and think about the seniors,” said Barbara Prasser of Indian Head. “The seniors have no place to go.”
Prasser insisted there isn’t viable housing for the elderly in Indian Head, prompting older citizens to move to La Plata.
“Certainly that will be discussed throughout the design portion,” Paulin said. “Tonight is just about the zoning.”