Last night (Feb. 19), the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly voted to donate a small parcel for a park and playground project to a non-profit formed by neighbors who are trying to rehabilitate and revitalize the Williwaw Subdivision near Wasilla. Since last year, the Borough has added street lights, towed illegally parked vehicles, placed large dumpsters, and increased code enforcement for junk and trash violations in Williwaw.
“When I look back on my years serving on the Assembly, I don’t think I’ll forget this moment,” said Borough Deputy Mayor Matthew Beck before the vote. “This might be the happiest and proudest moment of my years of serving. This is Mat-Su at its best, and why I love living here.”
Assembly Member Ted Leonard visited the neighborhood a year ago and remarked then about seeing a drug deal in daylight and excessive trash spread across lots. He told his peers on the Assembly by phone last night, “Less than a year ago the neighborhood came to the Assembly asking for us to partner with them in reclaiming their neighborhood. … This next investment is very important ...,” he said of the land for a park.
The land is a 0.37-acre parcel located at the corner of E. Chickaloon Road and N. Copper Creek Road. A photo is posted here. The Borough received it through a tax foreclosure in the 1970s and retained it for a public purpose, such as a park, due to its substandard size.
The Assembly vote was unanimous to donate the land for $10 to the neighbors who formed a non-profit called FISH, Families for the Improvement of Safety & Health.
Williwaw advocate and neighbor Michael Fernandez choked up during his testimony when he reported that his neighborhood participated in Halloween with one house receiving 60 trick-or-treaters. “I didn't realize that it's the first time in 20 years something like that has happened,” Fernandez told the Assembly.
Cottonwood Creek Elementary Principal Lisa Vrvilo also held back emotions when she described how 49 students ride the bus each day from the subdivision and how families over the years have shared stories with her on how they did not feel safe. “It’s exciting that things are moving in the right direction,” she said.
The Borough has installed 12 street lights at school bus stops and is working to install another five more possibly by September, said Terry Dolan, Borough Public Works Director. The Borough towed away numerous vehicles, including an RV, illegally parked in the road right-of-way.
“I got a call from a guy who lived there a long time who was in tears at how it was improving the neighborhood,” Dolan said.
Paid for by funds from a Community Clean-Up program, the Borough placed large containers on site for three days last May. The donated dumpsters hauled away 9.74 tons of waste for $1,800.
The Borough has long had a Code Compliance officer dedicated to the subdivision for junk and trash violations. Recently some 30 properties, among the subdivision's 400+ parcels, have accumulated and discarded waste in the yards including one parcel that has lined up refrigerators for a makeshift fence.
At the Tues. night meeting others testified on behalf of the Williwaw neighbors including Janet Kennedy, President of the Wasilla Sunrise Rotary Club, which has already raised $5,000 for a playground at the park. Her husband Dan Kennedy said the donation of the lot for the Borough would help raise property-assessed values. He said the park would help renew one of the most densely populated areas in the Borough.
Co-founder of FISH, Rachel Sayen Lambert, thanked Assembly Member Ted Leonard for his support and Deputy Borough Manager George Hays for opening his door. She said the group is working on rising above the negative.