The only ordinance that passed at Tuesday’s Bethel City Council meeting seemed more routine than consequential. The council unanimously voted to reacquire land that had been leased to the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative to test if the area could support a wind turbine. As it turned out, the 2.55 acres near the city lagoon was not a good location for that purpose, and the city is taking the land back.
The council unanimously chose to postpone until April the only other ordinance up for a vote. For more than 14 years, Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel has been in discussions with the city to convert his native allotment into a subdivision.
“I believe that without growth, without expansion, the economy of Bethel is stymied, businesses are stymied, people who want ownership in designing and owning their homes are also stymied,” Hoffman told the council members.
But all those entities, and Hoffman himself, will continue waiting. Hoffman’s approximately 22 acres form a horseshoe around Larson Subdivision, located northeast of the airport, and could hold 88 housing units. Council members agreed that Bethel needs more housing, but they want more details on the proposed Blue Sky Estates before moving forward. Council members particularly want more information on how the development could impact city water and sewer services.
Bethel has a housing shortage. Multiple community members, including Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wimmer urged the council to pass the measure.
“I have someone right now who would be willing to move in from a village, but they can’t find adequate housing for themselves, their four children, and their mother,” Wimmer said.
YKHC is expanding its hospital and will need more housing for hundreds of additional staff and their families. Wimmer said that lack of housing is one of the biggest barriers to recruiting and retaining employees and contributes to financial instability for residents.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council introduced a series of proposed ordinances, unanimously introducing proposals to fund an audit of the city finances and to fund upgrades to the Bethel Police Department’s 911 system. The upgrades would allow police to detect the location of a 911 cellphone call, a capability they already have with landline calls.
The council also introduced a proposal to expand the number of opportunities for casual vendors to sell goods in Bethel. Currently, people wanting to sell items at a yard sale, Saturday Market, or similar venue can only do so five times per year. After that, they need to register as a business and collect sales tax. Although there is no formal tracking system for these casual sales, the proposal would double those opportunities for vendors from five to 10 times per year.