Kenai debates adding sign to Lawton Acres’ Field of Flowers

The Kenai Airport Commission has proposed that this sign, designed by the Kenai Neon Sign Company, face the Kenai Spur Highway from the annual wildflower field that Kenai’s city government plants in the vacant municipal land between the Spur and Lawton Drive. The Kenai Airport Commission has been developing plans for the sign — which would occupy a city-owned property legally dedicated to support the Kenai Municipal Airport and long contested between residential neighbors and prospective developers — since October 2017. The Kenai City Council will vote on whether to erect it after it’s considered by the Kenai Beautification Committee, then again by the Airport Commission. (Courtesy of the City of Kenai)

The Kenai Airport Commission’s plans for a sign marking the the annual wildflower field the city plants in a vacant municipal lot on Lawton Drive have been delayed by disagreements over the property’s complicated relationship with the Kenai Municipal Airport and the size of the proposed sign.

 

The Kenai City Council will vote on the sign — which, in the version presented at their Wednesday meeting, would read “Field of Flowers: Cooperative effort by the Municipal Airport and the City of Kenai” — after it’s considered by the Beautification Committee and re-considered once again by the Airport Commission.

The Field of Flowers is part of a 16-acre lot of mostly wooded city land known as Lawton Acres, which has provoked controversy since the 1980s between prospective developers and residential neighbors wanting to keep it as a buffer against the Kenai Spur Highway and commercial areas to the north. The Kenai Airport Commission began discussing the sign in October 2017, in the aftermath of the most recent controversy earlier that year. The original version, which airport commissioners began discussing at their Oct.12, 2017 meeting, featured the Kenai Municipal Airport logo and read “Property owned by Kenai Municipal Airport.”

Though Lawton Acres is roughly half a mile away from the Kenai Municipal Airport’s present boundaries, it is one of several pieces of land throughout the city that once belonged to the military airfield which covered much of present-day Kenai in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1963 it was among the 1,800 acres of airfield land that the Federal Aviation Administration granted the newly-chartered city of Kenai. A condition of the grant was that land not directly used by the airport would financially support it by generating capital for an airport-dedicated investment fund.

During the early 2017 debates over possible development of Lawton Acres, the airport obligation complicated questions about its value and proposals to make it a park via a land swap with the Airport Land Sale Permanent Fund.

Many residents participating in that debate were unaware of the land’s legal tie to the airport, believing it to be a city park already. That confusion prompted the Airport Commission’s desire for signage.

Kenai council member and Airport Commission liaison Tim Navarre brought a sign proposal with the original “Property owned by Kenai Municipal Airport” text to the council at their April 18 meeting. The council members considered allowing the sign to go up then, but did not after member Mike Boyle objected to the language.

“From my understanding over many years of dealing with the issues of airport land, that’s kind of a misnomer,” Boyle said at the April meeting. “That land is owned by the city, given to the city in the past for the purpose of supporting the airport. It’s not airport-owned land per se… When we talk of issues of transferring or moving titles around for that land, it’s a very misunderstood issue. And I’d prefer not to do something like that to make it more misunderstood.”

During the 2017 Lawton Acres dispute Boyle had unsuccessfully moved for the city to preserve Lawton Acres as a park after “purchasing” it from its airport obligation by transferring $600,000 from the city general fund to the airport fund.

At Wednesday’s meeting it was Navarre who protested the new language, saying the phrase “cooperative effort between Kenai Municipal Airport and the City of Kenai” is confusing “because the city owns the municipal airport.”

“I would have liked some different language — like, maybe ‘Brought to you by the city of Kenai and its Municipal Airport,’ or something like that,” Navarre said.

Boyle disagreed with the sign aesthetically — saying the Field of Flowers is “beautiful in its simplicity” — as well as with its accuracy.

“I think it’s a very nice sign, but I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said. “…Not to be a naysayer, but this was a project of the Beautification Committee, if I understand correctly, and Parks and Rec. It wasn’t a project of the Municipal Airport.”

The present version of the sign would be 4 feet by 8 feet and mounted on posts to face the Kenai Spur Highway. It would be removable in the winter, when the field is flowerless.

“There aren’t any signs that direct the public or make them aware that the Field of Flowers has access, or that it even exists, as you drive along the highway,” said council member Henry Knackstedt, who introduced the new proposal on behalf of the Airport Commission.

Council member Bob Molloy said he’d favor a smaller sign facing the Lawton Drive side of the field. The proposed dimensions, he said, are of similar size to a political campaign sign and would “obscure a lot,” he said, before successfully moving to refer it to the Beautification Committee.

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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