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Story Last modified at 5:59 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Neighbors no longer so down on Uplands
Stewart subdivision still raises traffic questions

Alaska Star

The Uplands is back.

The 26-lot subdivision on the Stewart homestead off Eagle River Road generated anger and worry among its neighbors last year. They condemned the proposed urban lot density in the long-established rural housing developments nearby, like those on Pruess Lane and Lucas Avenue. They expressed concern over the potential for flooding if homes or asphalt blocked a water-draining gully that bisects the nearly 20-acre property.

The Uplands never progressed to the point where municipal officials could approve it.

So about a month ago, developers with the Stewart family decided to redesign the project in hopes of moving ahead.

This time, the new plan is actually drawing some praise from the people who live nearby, though questions remain about traffic and water issues.

Consultants with Triad Engineering unveiled a new subdivision plan before the Eagle River Valley Community Council during a special meeting June 8.

Community council president Therese Voehl thanked the consultants as the meeting drew to a close.

"This has been really helpful. I think people are feeling a lot more comfortable," said Voehl. "People have had a lot of questions answered. There are still concerns. Whenever you're changing, there are going to be a lot of issues with change."

Stewart approached the company about a month ago after he "came up against too many roadblocks" trying to redesign a project that would pass muster with municipal officials, particularly on the drainage issue, Triad owner Dave Greiner said.

Instead of development near the gully, the new design shows greenbelts.

"In these topographically challenged areas, the best way to work it is just stay out of drainages," Greiner said. "The original design didn't do that. Buildings were actually placed inside, right adjacent to and on those drainages. We couldn't responsibly design a subdivision like that."

The new design also calls for a catch basin in the storm drain outfall and a trench filled with rock, all to redirect water as it flows across the property and before it flows onto adjacent parcels, Greiner said.

At least one adjacent property owner on Pruess said he has a personal interest in making sure groundwater problems don't worsen if the Uplands goes in.

An earlier Stewart subdivision above them appears to be causing groundwater problems already, Robin Kaneta and Julie Beazley told the group. Kaneta said he doesn't know for sure their problem stems from the Stewart development.

But their septic system appears to be failing and their well also appears compromised.

"Our septic is getting saturated by runoff," Kaneta said. "We have to get it pumped twice a year."

That's only happened since the subdivision went in above them, he said.

"Our well pressure is practically nil," Beazley said.

Well, Grenier's Tony Hoffman told Kaneta, putting in a sewer tie to the city line that Stewart will be required to bring out to the Uplands "would be a very clean solution" to his septic problems.

Other residents said that even with some changes to the road that crosses the property, they're still concerned about the increased traffic coming from those new homes, especially around the already dangerous and steep intersection of Pruess and David Avenue.

"My biggest concern is the traffic, the destruction of the roads, because our roads are already falling apart," said Donna Forward, who lives with her husband in the Pruess subdivision. "There are 16 children 12 or younger on Pruess. A lot of them are walkers."

The Triad consultants said they would be meeting with municipal traffic engineers and suggested the council approach the state about some kind of school-zone warning lights for Ravenwood Elementary.

Triad also reduced the seven "flag pole" lots originally proposed to two lots. The lots – with a long strip for a driveway and a square for a home – allow for greater lot density but the muni worries about turning around emergency vehicles.

The council did pass several resolutions. One asked the developer to install "night-sky friendly" streetlights. Another requests municipal planning officials encourage the developer to preserve the existing buffer of trees around the edges of the subdivision.

Scott Stewart attended the meeting, but mostly let the consultants do the talking. Stewart did answer a few questions when Greiner and Hoffman couldn't.

Forward asked if there would be streetlights. Most of the residents in the area moved there for the big, rural-feeling lots, quiet and darkness, she said.

Yes, Stewart said, they're required by the muni. He expected he'd need to put in five to seven.

He also told the council that he plans a third phase of development, either north of the first subdivision he did or south of the current Uplands phase, along Eagle River Road.

The Triad staffers said they planned to meet with municipal officials on the project last week. They encouraged community council members to provide comments to the platting board and attend the hearing when the Uplands subdivision comes up. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.