At an outdoor neighborhood meeting in an Anchorage culdesac on Wednesday evening, over 75 homeowners from the surrounding area set the opinion firehose to full force toward Assembly members Meg Zalatel and Felix Rivera: The purchase of the Red Lion Hotel by the Berkowitz Administration for a drug treatment center is a nonstarter, they said.
Although they were masked up and socially distanced, dozens of speakers clearly said — through their masks — that the idea proposed by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is bad for their neighborhoods.
For one thing, one man said, the State Department of Transportation plans to use some of the Golden Lion Hotel’s parking lot for the expected overpass-underpass interchange on the Seward Highway at 36th Ave. Land on the corners of that intersection will probably go to the state through an eminent domain process.
For another thing, residents from Rogers Park said, there’s a preschool just one block away from the hotel at the David & Ruth Green Lubavitch Jewish Center on 35th Avenue.
And doctors from the neighborhoods expressed concern about the types of drugs, both pharmaceutical and street quality, that would be ever closer to homes where children play out of doors, and said the proper place for a drug treatment center would be near the hospital, not by families worried about drug addicts in their backyards.
On the spot for over an hour and a half, Zaletel and Rivera would not be pinned down on an answer but said they are still gathering information and “studying” the issue that has been proposed, which is to revise zoning so that a homeless shelter can be established somewhere in midtown. The proposal bypasses the Planning and Zoning Commission and much of the public process.
One person in the meeting pointed out to Zalatel and Rivera that if only a treatment center was planned, there would be no need for a zoning change. The zoning change was proposed by the Berkowitz Administration because, in fact, the plan is to shelter homeless drug addicts.
Zalatel admitted that a drug treatment center requires no zoning change.
All in all, the mood of the crowd, which came from Geneva Woods, College Village and Rogers Park, was decidedly “livid,” as one participant described it: “They had everything but pitchforks.”
AO 2020-58 was introduced in June, but with no mention of the actual location of what is intended to be a shelter and drug treatment facility for homeless.
But neighbors caught wind of the true plans and Must Read Alaska reported what was the real purpose of the vague ordinance that would bypass the Planning and Zoning Commission so that a large portion of midtown could be rezoned to include any number of homeless shelters.
Although Zalatel and Rivera kept saying they plan to study and gather more information, that was not enough for the group, which included many doctors and members of the Jewish community.
In a private meeting after Zalatel and Rivera had left, the group passed the hat and raised money to hire an attorney to fight the Berkowitz Administration over the proposal. Must Read Alaska has learned that they raised six figures to get started on an injunction.
A public hearing, not yet calendared, is planned for July 14 for the purchase of the hotel, which would be done with federal money intended for COVID-19 coronavirus support for the city.