PALMER — With a final amendment targeted at Felony Flats, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly has put to rest months of work on its rules for rental or “multi-family” housing.
The final tweak was to limit the number of rentals classified as “substandard housing units” — cabins without running water, a foundation or electricity — to no more than two, and only one per 40,000 square feet of a lot.
“I set this off for a couple of weeks to deal with this situation,” assemblyman Vern Halter said. “People from both the Big Lake area and the Willow area that petitioned, this is what they were seeking as a remedy.”
That’s because Big Lake and Willow were both worried that the so-called Felony Flats along the Parks Highway would move to neighborhoods in their communities. Felony Flats is the colloquial name for the Mile 49 Cabins, some of the cheapest housing available in the Valley, that line the highway near its intersection with Pittman Road. The cabins are being moved now to make way for an expansion of the highway.
The cabins’ owner also owns land in Willow and Big Lake. Construction activity there soon after it became clear the cabins had to go got neighbors worried.
“By and large, though, the people that I’ve talked to out here, they’re very appreciative of the ordinance,” Darwin Fischer, who lives in the Beverly Lakes Drive neighborhood near one of those sites, said when contacted Monday.
He said that since last summer, the trees on the plot have started growing back. He hasn’t been threatened recently, as he was once when discussing the matter with an Anchorage television crew.
“One of the people that lives in there on the corner came up there right in front of the TV crew and said we know who you are we know where you live,” Fischer said.
The problem with the kind of rules the assembly passed is that plenty of people with large rural lots want to put up cabins for their kids. A straight prohibition would likely curtail that.
But, Halter said, the key here is that it targets substandard housing used for commercial purposes as rentals.
“It doesn’t apply to somebody that’s going to build two or three cabins on their own property,” Halter said. “It’s a commercial transaction and that’s kind of key to it, I think.”
Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said in his regular podcast that he believes the measure was well received.
“I think one gentleman from Willow said he never believed in miracles before when it came to government, but he was grateful to see we were responsive on that,” the mayor said. “For an owner that’s maintaining ownership and control and wants a bed and breakfast or multiple buildings on his property, it’s not going to shut any of that down. Hopefully we got the best of both worlds and we finally got that off of our agenda after about six months.”
Fischer said he’d share that assessment.
“By and large, the people that I’ve talked to out here they’re very appreciative of the ordinance,” Fischer said.
But, he said, its up to him and his neighbors to maintain vigilance and report when they think the rules have been broken. “You know as well as I do that there are shady shysters that are going to find a way to circumvent it.”
Contact Andrew Wellner at 352-2270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.