PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough was awarded a grant by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016. The result of the $550,000 Brownfield study grant came to Palmer this weekend as the result of consulting company Stantec’s plan to revitalize the Mat-Maid block in Palmer as Stantec’s Wendy Van Duyne presented their nearly complete plan to the Palmer City Council and at the Palmer Train Depot on Wednesday. Below is a timeline of the development of the project
The Mat-Su Borough is awarded $550,000 for an EPA.
The EPA funded Brownfield grant may be used for environmental site assessment and possibly cleanup and refuse planning activities.
The EPA defines a Brownfield as a property on which the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. EPA estimates that 450,000 brownfield sites exist in the U.S.
As part of the brownfield study, Stantec is hired by the Mat-Su Borough, who accepted the grant funding, to consult with the city of Palmer on the Mat-Maid block between South Valley Way and South Denali Street and East Dogwood and East Dahlia Avenues. Stantec consultant Wendy Van Duyne was part of the team that hosted an open house at the Palmer Train Depot, as well as presenting the Palmer city Council. The Stantec visit in March was focused on listening to residents, property owners and stakeholders and collecting ideas for how to revitalize the property. Van Duyne and her colleagues studied the rich agricultural heritage of the Valley and studied planning and zoning priorities. Van Duyne outlined six land uses in Palmer which are low density residential, high density residential, commercial, parks and open spaces, industrial and public.
“Palmer is a special place. It’s not Wasilla, it’s not Anchorage, it’s Palmer and that’s the way that it should be kept and that’s important to consider in terms of rehabilitation and revitalization,” Van Duyne said.
Stantec returns to see Palmer at its most vibrant during the Colony Days parade. In June, Stantec again met with community members and public officials and presented three concepts of varying density for the Mat-Maid block.
Concept A would construct two three-story mixed use structures with commercial businesses on the bottom floor and housing on the top floor. The space would allow for surface parking and green spaces with a possible pedestrian trial connection across the railroad corridor.
Concept B would construct three three-story buildings and develop a cohesive plaza space near the depot, scrapping the existing but unused railroad tracks.
Concept C would construct five three-story mixed use buildings, allow for surface parking and green spaces and create roadway segments from the site into downtown.
“What we heard most form residents is if you’re going to do something, do it right and do it well and really make the biggest impact for what you’re trying to achieve,” Van Duyne said.
Van Duyne returns with population and demographic analysis paired with a finalized set of plans. Van Duyne says the process still must go through quality control procedures, but is 95 percent complete. Van Duyne presented the data collected through conversations and interactive data in June, showing that many members of the community felt strongest about plans B and C. Residents of Palmer wanted pedestrian and vehicle connectivity and only two story buildings to maintain view of the Chugach mountains. Van Duyne said that there was a large amount of support for the Train Depot itself as a community gathering place, and removed the recommendation to scrap the railroad tracks. However, Van Duyne said that more support was given for an extension of Dogwood Avenue or a resurfacing of South Colony Way as long as there was no loss in parking spaces. Prior to presenting the final plans, Van Duyne presented some astounding numbers compiled with guidance from the International Downtown Association. Palmer has a housing vacancy rate of one percent, meaning that 99 percent of housing units are occupied. While the number of 65 and over residents of Palmer is high, so is the number of young adults. The median age in Palmer in 2018 was 33.5 years old. Van Duyne credited the large contingent of a younger demographic to the employment hub in downtown. The Borough has a projected growth rate of 83 percent by 2045 which outpaces the state growth at 22 percent. The population in Palmer in 2000 was 4,126, which is expected to nearly double to 8,154 in 2023. The number of households in Palmer is also expected to double, going from 1,511 in 2000 to a projected 2,820 in 2023.
“The borough and particularly Palmer are very well situated to benefit from this growth,” Van Duyne said.
Van Duyne then presented consumer data, showing that residents of Palmer leave the city for box store needs, health care or goods that cannot be found in Palmer, but stay in town for food, drinks, gas, miscellaneous retail and general merchandise. Stantec’s final recommendations for the brownfield study of the Mat-Maid block was to construct two two-story mixed use buildings with housing on the top level and commercial spaces on the ground floor. Surface parking would be available for patrons with green spaces and gathering areas. The new plan would keep the railroad tracks up to the Depot and recommends improvements to community spaces around the Depot. Stantec leaves the question of extending Dogwood Avenue up in the air, though there was much support for the idea. While the brownfield study by Stantec cost the city nothing, once complete, Stantec will provide the city of Palmer with a guiding document to help implement the revitalization plan. What the Council decides to do with it at that point is yet to be determined.
“That’s what this is, a tool to guide us,” City Manager Nathan Wallace said.
While the plan may be implemented wholly or in parts, Councilman Richard Best was anxious about the differences between adopting and accepting the plan.
“I’m a little leary of this,” Best said.
Van Duyne informed Best that when the plan is complete, it will provide a guiding document but is not binding in any way.
“Keep Palmer Palmer,” Deputy Mayor Linda Combs said.