MEADOW LAKES — The Mile 49 Cabins along the Parks Highway are soon to be no more.
Pick your nickname or your euphemism — “Felony Flats,” “colorful,” “crack shacks” or “blighted” — you know the cabins at the Parks Highway and Pittman Road intersection, down the hill from Three Bears and across the highway from the gas station.
They’re a magnet for Alaska State Trooper responses; generating domestic violence calls, warrant arrests and at least one murder that just went to trial this year. The cabins are the cheapest housing available in the Valley and tend to attract the recently paroled.
The state is buying the land beneath them to expand the Parks Highway. What’s going to happen with the cabins is still up in the air and is causing quite a bit of concern further up the highway.
So, what’s the state’s plan for the cabins?
“The short answer is they are entitled to relocation benefits per federal regulations. The cabins are considered personal property since there are no foundations and they can be moved. We buy the land and permanent structures, but not the personal property,” said Anne Brooks, spokeswoman for the road project.
So their owner, Mike Stephan, will retain ownership and will get state money to move them.
“We may sell them. We’ve had two or three people by yesterday that wanted to buy cabins,” he said when reached by phone Thursday.
Stephan said he’s not positive he’ll sell them all, but at the moment, he said that seems like the best option to him.
“It’s been more trouble than it’s worth,” he said. “I think I’d rather sell them. It’s been more of a headache. It’s like running a trailer park or a camper park.”
If anyone wants to buy one, he said, they can call him at 376-6478.
“We can deliver them,” he said. “They’re easy to move and we’ll pay to move them.”
Actually, he clarified, the state will pay to move them. Brooks said the state also is paying rent on the vacant cabins, which is most of them these days. Stephan said he only has two or three tenants. Brooks said that was actually the most reasonable option.
“This was less expensive than allowing new people to move in and having to relocate them also. If the residents are relocated, the state is required to relocate the tenants into decent, safe and sanitary quarters. This is very costly to the state, hence the rent to keep vacant,” she said.
Darwin Fischer isn’t so sure Stephan’s plan is to sell the cabins. Fischer lives in a neighborhood off Beaver Lake Road about three miles north of Big Lake. Stephan owns property just up the street. Starting Friday, Fischer said, bulldozers were on the property, apparently carving out pads.
Fischer said it seems like the cabins are going to be relocated to his neighbor soon, and he’s not too thrilled at the prospect.
“We moved out here for peace and quiet,” he said.
For his part, Stephan said he’s been improving the Big Lake property, widening a road. He’s also improving property up in Willow. He said he doesn’t currently have plans to move the cabins to Big Lake, but he also didn’t strictly rule out the possibility.
“We don’t have any definite plans,” Stephan said.
That doesn’t give Fischer much piece of mind. He said he’s talked to the Mat-Su Borough. He’s looked up the codes for multi-family properties and he has a lifetime of experience in the construction industry. He said he’s pretty sure he’s looking at pads for a cabin and wonders whether Stephan has all his permits. Especially since the property abuts wetlands.
Bottom line — he said he doesn’t want felony flats in his backyard.
“I understand sometimes people make a mistake and need a second chance and I’m all for that,” he said.
But where the flats are now they’re close to a major transportation corridor. There’s a gas station where people can pick up essentials and use the toilet and get water when they have to.
Up off Beaver Lake Road there’s none of that. Would those residents be knocking on his door asking for a ride or to use his phone or for his help jumping a car?
“I want everybody to be fair about this,” he said. “I’m not out to screw Stephan.”
But he’s also not out to be neighbors with his cabins.
“I’m getting too old to start over again,” Fischer said.
Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-2270.