After more than a year deliberating a land trade to resolve a leftover of the flooding disaster in K-Beach, the borough assembly voted it down Tuesday.
The land trade was meant to compensate the landowners of a parcel on the corner of Karluk and Kalifornsky Beach Road, Paula and Timothy Keohane. During the floods of 2013, the parcel — frequently referred to as “the Karluk basin” because of its low-lying elevation — flooded and overflowed into the neighbors’ lots and street.
The borough pumped the basin and worked with the Keohanes to determine how to compensate them for the use of their land.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre presented the land trade as a solution in 2014. The borough would trade one of its bluff properties at Mile 12.1 to the Keohanes in exchange for an easement on a portion of the property that would allow the borough to drain the basin if the area flooded again in the future.
The assembly has been working on approving the land trade at nearly every meeting for the last year. Tempers flared at the meeting Tuesday when the assembly discussed the merits of the ordinance and its amendments.
K-Beach resident Dan Sterchi, who lives next door to the empty borough land, has opposed the trade since the beginning. He has repeatedly said the borough should keep the parcel as drainage to Cook Inlet to help alleviate some of the pressure on the homes on the east side of K-Beach road.
“You’re going to need this piece of property,” Sterchi said. “My story hasn’t changed.”
If the borough declined to keep the property, Sterchi said they should sell it to him, as he had been requesting to buy it for many years and been told it was critical drainage.
K-Beach residents affected by the flooding have repeatedly testified at the borough assembly, asking for more drainage that channels water to the Cook Inlet rather than letting it dissipate downward through ditches. In addition to Sterchi, K-Beach residents Dave Yragui testified at the Tuesday meeting and Toby Burke sent in a nearly 3,500-word letter saying the borough should reject the land trade.
Assembly member Brent Johnson proposed an amendment to the ordinance at the assembly’s Oct. 13 with a three-way deal: The borough would sell the property to Sterchi and then use the money from the purchase to compensate the Keohanes. The borough administration communicated with the Keohanes, and they accepted the amendment as an option in light of Sterchi’s claim.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to have this included, to have the value of this land established by a qualified appraiser,” Johnson said. “In that, we have the guarantee that somebody with some authority and expertise in valuing land will set the value. That way, we all know what the value is and there’s no chance for subterfuge anywhere, and that is a very public way of getting this done.”
However, several assembly members expressed concern about the appraisal option. Under Johnson’s ordinance, an independent appraiser would estimate a value for the property, currently valued at $101,700. The property would be sold to Sterchi for that amount and that would be conferred to the Keohanes.
Assembly representative Dale Bagley called the whole process “silly.” The property on the corner of Karluk is valued at far less than the property on the bluff, and Bagley favored simply scrapping the ordinance and paying the Keohanes for the easement.
“I just think this is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Bagley said. “We just need to decide how much it is worth to pay the Keohanes money to pump water out of this. That’s what we should be discussing. I actually don’t think we should pay any.”
Assembly member Brandii Holmdahl, who was elected Oct. 6, said she was still learning about the proposed ordinance but felt that letting the power over the price leave the borough’s hands and go to an independent appraiser seemed irresponsible.
“I believe the Keohanes were originally approached about us purchasing the property and they didn’t want to do that,” Holmdahl said. “But it seems like that’s what this is doing through a three-step process. It seems like the Keohanes may be at a place now where they are willing to sell the easement and it seems like the best thing to do is leave this parcel alone and go back to the fact that they are open to that.”
Navarre argued for the ordinance, saying that the administration has put in years of effort into organizing this land trade. The area could flood again, but the trade would grant the borough a perpetual easement with no cost to the borough. He said Sterchi never received certification of the promise to sell the land to him and that he likely wants the borough to keep the land because he lives next door.
“We tried to accommodate that — that’s what established the value,” Navarre said. “The value to the borough was now that we had the functional property of two properties. There are other ways to go about this. The other ways that we will go about it will, in my opinion, probably end up costing the borough some money.”
Assembly member Gary Knopp, who represents the K-beach area, said he would not support the ordinance, as there were other options to resolve the problem.
Johnson, who pushed for the amendment, said it would be better to resolve the problem and that transferring the land would also get both parcels on the tax rolls, bringing in additional revenue for the borough. Johnson supported getting the appraisal public because the public should know if the borough traded a much more valuable piece of property to the Keohanes rather than not knowing the value.
“Without having a value on it, we were willing to pick a value on it, because what do we know about the value of property?” Johnson said. “This way, at least the darn thing is public. Vote it down if you want, don’t vote it down … If we screw up, then we should at least do it publicly.”
The assembly ultimately failed the ordinance 6-3, with several assembly members saying they would consider other options.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.