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As previously reported, the Borough Assembly will soon decide whether or not to create new revitalization tools for downtown Fairbanks.  This article examines the impact of Ordinance 2010-09 being voted down, offers counterpoint to the fears that may lead to its failure, and examines the impact of passing the Vision Fairbanks-inspired ordinance.

In review,  Ordinance 2010-09 contains two new zone types which vividly describe a downtown of mixed uses – retail and commercial establishments, residents, and pedestrians.  The zone types also contain three simple, achievable development standards to support the mixed uses of downtown.  These new zones types are not the only way to revitalize downtown and won’t by themselves revitalize downtown, but they are part of a long term effort to do so.  Ordinance 2010-09 would only create new zone types; it will not apply them.

The impact of killing Ordinance 2010-09 is substantial.  If the vote on Ordinance 2010-09 is a tie or has a majority opposed, then the Assembly will have rejected the only piece of the downtown revitalization plan to come before it since the Assembly adopted the Downtown Plan in 2008. Odds are that the Assembly will have nothing to put in its place and will have no further doings with downtown’s revitalization, no subsequent opportunity to support economic development downtown at no cost.

Opponents of the plan see great risk in creating two new zone types, namely that creating two new zone types enlarges government’s ability to harm its citizens, and a fear that the zone types and the development standards will discourage future investment downtown.  Proponents of the new zone types claim the greater risk is that – even if created – the new zone types may never be applied, may never be used, may never figure into downtown’s revitalization.

Still, opponents of zoning contend that adding two more zone types to the 16 zoning districts already in code will make the Borough that much more likely to re-zone properties.  Were a forcible rezone to arise downtown by the hand of the Borough Mayor, the rezone would first have to be approved by the Borough Assembly.  If the Borough Assembly endorsed the rezone in the course of a pubic process that includes the Planning Commission, then any aggrieved land-owners within the rezoned area (or even people simply aggrieved by the action downtown) could appeal to Alaska’s Superior Court.  If the courts uphold the Assembly’s action, then the rezone is final (though further appeal is possible).  This course of events begs the question: is a Mayor or an Assembly member likely to bring forward a forcible rezone?

Also, opponents of zoning contend that creating new zone types will discourage future investment downtown because the permitted uses are restrictive and the development standards unique to these zone types would drive up capital costs of new construction, discourage renovations and investment in general.  While the new zone types are intended to encourage and protect investment downtown as they have in other downtowns, it is true that the new zone types could have the opposite effect.  But that would require them to be applied: remember that a rezone is a separate step that can be initiated by the Borough mayor (as above), an Assembly member or landowners themselves: remember that Ordinance 2010-09 would only create the zone types, not apply them.

Passage of the zone types demonstrates that Fairbanks has the will and cohesion to advance a long-term revitalization effort.  With passage of the zones types, Fairbanks says, “investment downtown is welcome!” To maximize and protect investment we have new zone types available.  Were the zone types in effect the last dozen years, they would have influenced new construction downtown.  The Mariott would have been welcomed!  And Vision Fairbanks zoning would have steered Marriott’s site plan to put Lavelle’s Bistro on Cushman Street, presenting an active, bright aspect to the busiest street downtown.  Likewise, Mt. McKinley would have been welcomed downtown!   And Vision Fairbanks zoning would have steered its site plan to have clearer windows – and in some cases real windows – facing 3rd Avenue.

To bring that investment, it would be helpful to show progress on a long-term plan for downtown’s revitalization.  And when that investment comes, it would be good to have new zone types available in Borough code to assist downtown’s revitalization.

Ordinance 2010-09 will be at the Borough Assembly Thursday March 17 for a work session in the Borough Assembly chambers at 6 PM (timing is approximate since the work session follows the Finance Committee meeting, which starts at 5:30 PM).  The meeting is open to the public, but there is no public comment period.

And again Thursday March 24 for a public hearing and FINAL VOTE at the Borough Assembly chambers at 7 PM (timing is approximate since they’ll get to Ordinance 2010-09 when they get to it).