Fairbanks City Council members provided feedback during a recent business session last week regarding the borough-backed Downtown Fairbanks 2040 plan.
The project is presented as an area plan for the city center that would guide future development, improve parking and provide potential tools for commercial and residential development.
A working group including city, borough, business and transportation organizations are developing the project, according to Shelly Wade of Agnew-Beck Consulting, the firm hired as part of the project team to finalize. the plan.
Council received an initial update during a work session in April, but returned to hear council’s comments on some points.
Council member Jerry Cleworth, who sits on the task force, cautioned the group when using the concepts of “complete streets.” A “complete streets” policy applies to iconic streets that are otherwise considered incomplete, emphasizing connectivity, right-of-way and safety.
“There are pros with ‘Complete Streets’ and cons,” Cleworth said. “If you say this is the model to use, there are devils in the details.”
A provision in the initial presentation of the downtown plan referred to raised intersections or curb-height intersections. Cleworth called them “a disaster in cold climates”.
“The city ruled that out when we designed Cushman Street,” he said.
Kellen Spillman, director of community planning for the borough, said the “complete streets” policy was recommended “where appropriate.”
“It was supposed to be the national ‘complete streets’ theory, not the one the city did the study on years ago,” Spillman said. The national philosophy aims to accommodate all users, from personal vehicles and delivery trucks to cyclists, and could incorporate sidewalks and bike lanes.
The intention, he said, was to accommodate all users while recognizing the constraints of downtown streets, such as the lack of space for bike lanes.
Spillman added that it really comes down to a “road-by-road” basis, noting that some downtown streets have a low volume of traffic that could accommodate bikes on the road.
Lacey Street, Spillman said, would be ideal for a bike lane, while Noble Street would not work.
Council Member Lonny Marney inquired about vacant lots downtown, asking if the same level of detail was included in the recommendations as for parking.
The Borough’s project team studied the parking studies and suggestions during the April council meeting.
Spillman said the borough mapped vacant land for several reasons, including potential uses.
He worked with the Downtown Association to release a map using the borough’s new multifamily development tax exemption.
“We want to let developers know that there are underutilized vacant lots downtown that they could consider,” Spillman said.
A similar construction incentive, sponsored by Council member Valérie Therrien, remains in committee until details can be finalized.
Asked how contributions work differently than a previous Vision Fairbanks downtown plan, Spillman said Downtown Fairbanks 2040 takes a holistic approach.
“The biggest difference is the level of detail,” Spillman said. “Vision Fairbanks was very prescriptive on a lot of things, and I think that may be his downfall.”
The old vision plan, he said, was specific about where to place grocery stores or move the transportation hub and create a public plaza.
Many concepts between Vision Fairbanks and Downtown Fairbanks 2040 are similar, Spillman said, but the new plan would be more flexible and deal with details at the political level.
“Vision Fairbanks was a disaster of a plan,” Cleworth said. “The subcontractor had a vision that was not at all ours. It worked better for Portland.
Cleworth noted that as a business owner, the Vision Fairbanks plan offered “retail hotspots” that dictated leasing to retail businesses only.
Wade said the project team’s goal is to release a final version for public comment in mid-June or late June.
The process of developing the new plan began in 2017, was paused in 2020 and relaunched in fall 2021, according to the project’s website.
The original goal to adopt a final plan was fall 2022, but Wade said the level of public awareness plays a role.
The current task force includes Brenda Riley, Buki Wright, Chris Miller, Doug Sims, Jackson Fox, Jerry Cleworth, John Jackovich, Sabrina Binkley, Scott McCrea, Sharon Hildebrand, and Sue Sprinkle.
A project team made up of City of Fairbanks, Borough, and Fast Area Surface Transportation Planning employees assists them.