City of Wasilla

WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council introduced remote public access in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a meeting Monday night.

The public was able to listen to the meeting live, phone in to provide comments and/or could email comments to the clerk prior to the meeting to be read aloud. This came after Gov. Dunleavy announced that gatherings of 10 people or more would be prohibited unless the people are six feet apart from each other. The WCC is one of many bodies to switch to a remote workplace. Councilmembers Tim Burney, Glenda Ledford and James Harvey were present telephonically.

“MTA is providing the tools and technology for people to be able to work from home and provide as much normalcy to their work day as possible,” councilmember Stuart Graham said regarding MTA’s work to provide services to businesses across the Valley during the ongoing public health crisis.

Director of Recreation Services Joan Klapperich praised MTA during the meeting for installing internet access in the south parking lot of the Menard Center. This partnership between the city of Wasilla and MTA gives families, students, employees, and anyone who does not have reliable internet access the opportunity to work, study and use the internet.

During public participation, Wasilla Area Seniors Inc. senior ambassador Tom Stearns read aloud a written statement from WASI CEO Chuck Foster. Foster informed the council that WASI is closed and are not serving congregate meals, but will provide ‘drive-and-go’ meals from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The measure is aimed to help protect one of the more vulnerable groups to disease. The Center of Disease Control labels “older people” of having a higher risk of contracting severe illness and possibly COVID-19.

“We have continued hyper cleaning and social distancing by the staff,” Foster wrote in his message.

Stearns added that they can serve more people outside of the community and those no longer able to go to the senior center due to the nearly $5,000 extra that they raised from last year’s Miles for Meals 5K fun run.

Also affected by the current public health crisis is the hiring process for the Wasilla Police Department. Since the application period closed on Feb. 21, they’ve began the hiring process for one applicant for the three positions available.

“The problem is people can’t get here,” WPD chief Joel Smith said.

Smith said this process is for lateral hires, of which those applicants are in communities that have limited travel due to COVID-19.

Beginning on March 25, Dunleavy mandates that “people arriving in Alaska, whether resident, worker or visitor, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for illness” within their residence or lodging.

Also effected by travel safety concerns is the Youth Court. Passed unanimously by the council, ordinance 20-10 amended the FY2020 Youth Court budget to include funds from the MEA Charitable Foundation, the Alaska Department of Health And Social Services Division of Juvenile Justice, and Mat-Su Health Foundation to cover the travel expenses for the annual United Youth Courts of Alaska Conference in Juneau.

Mayor Bert Cottle said that the trip is on hold for right now and those funds will be held until travel is deemed safe, or will be used next year’s conference.

In other non-COVID-19 related actions by the council, it unanimously passed ordinance 19-29 which amended Wasilla Municipal Code to address short-term rentals. The planning commission in conjunction with the council drafted this ordinance with the intent of “maintaining the integrity of existing residential neighborhoods” and to create regulations for short term rentals.

The definition for “short-term rentals” within the ordinance is “the commercial use…of an entire residential dwelling unit…wherein any individual occupant rents…[for] a minimum of one night, but no more than 30 consecutive calendar days….” For example, an AirBnB. The definition does not exclude bed and breakfasts, various transitional housing, and other governmental or commercial uses of housing.

An amendment councilmember Graham which the council passed with noted opposition from councilmember Harvey, excluded short-term rentals within R1 single-family districts.

“This R1 zoned property inside our city is the jewel of our city,” councilmember Graham said.

Mayor Cottle sympathized with the neighbors of the potential short-term rental units and raised safety concerns for families of neighboring houses that would be next to short-term rentals.

“Now all the sudden you have 365 different nights somebody can move in and out of the house…next to you,” Mayor Cottle said.

Bed and breakfasts are allowed in R1 districts, but only three or four are in the city according to city planner Tina Crawford. There are 898 R1 plots in Wasilla.

Anthony Jones is a senior at Mat-Su Career and Technical School and a Frontiersman intern for the 2019-20 school year.

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