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Zoning decision delayed

Kenai waits to decide on allowable land uses

Posted: August 19, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: August 19, 2011 - 7:50am

Kenai’s city council agreed Wednesday to postpone a decision on a proposed changed to allowed land uses in the Rural Residential 1 zone until its next meeting.

The substitute ordinance would change the land use table for RR1, but the council is waiting to discuss it until Sept. 7. That way council members will have a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission on not only that ordinance, but on land use changes for every zone in the city.

Residents of the MAPS and Three Ws neighborhoods, both zoned RR1, brought forward changes to the land-use table for their zone in April.

They wanted to disallow a variety of commercial and industrial uses to protect the rural character of their neighborhoods. But that spurred the city to look at land-use across the zones.

Councilman Ryan Marquis proposed the Sept. 7 date as a compromise.

The commission was looking at bringing a recommendation to council by its Sept. 21 meeting. The neighborhood residents wanted a decision that night.

Councilmen Bob Molloy and Mike Boyle voted against postponement, while the remainder of the council, and the mayor, voted for it. Boyle was participating telephonically.

Molloy had asked the council to vote on the RR1 zones that night, and then let the commission finish its work on the rest of the city’s land uses.

“It’s important that we should vote on this tonight,” Molloy said.

Councilman Terry Bookey said the September meeting is the final deadline for him. He wants to see the council vote the ordinance up or down that night.

The commission has scheduled a work session for Aug. 30 to discuss the whole land-use table.

Among the contentious land uses are restaurants, lodges, mini-storage and other business and commercial uses in residential areas. Subsurface resource development is also on the list of those uses that could be prohibited.

The council heard testimony from residents wanting a yes vote that night, and members of the planning and zoning commission looking for enough time to do a thorough job.

Paul Turinsky, a commercial builder who opted not to sit for his testimony, said he wants to see Kenai explode.

“I make my living building cities,” he said. “Commercial construction is what I do.”

But for now, he wants the explosion contained to Kenai’s city center — not sprawling along the highway and into neighborhoods, Turinsky said.

Just one landowner shared displeasure with the ordinance. Two representatives of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office testified that the reducing the allowed uses on trust lands would be considered a taking.

The trust, which owns land in MAPS and subsurface rights in Three Ws, is charged with using its property to generate revenue that supports Alaskans’ mental well-being.

“We would assert that the changes to the land use table are not minor, but are significant,” said Marcie Menefee, the trust land office’s deputy director.

A letter from the trust’s executive director, Gregory Jones, said the organization will purse protection of the trust’s land and mineral assets as far as necessary.

The ordinance was first brought forward in April. Molloy had worked with residents of the MAPS and Three Ws neighborhoods to draft legislation altering the land-use table.

The council scheduled the ordinance to come back to it Aug. 17.

In the meantime, the council sent the ordinance to Kenai’s Planning and Zoning commission for a work session, public hearing and recommendation. Already in the midst of updating the comprehensive plan, the commission decided the city would be best served by a review of the land-use table for the entire city, not just one zone.

While the commission reviewed the ordinance, the neighbors also made some changes — resulting in the substitute ordinance that was offered up Wednesday night. Residents of the two neighborhoods that brought the original ordinance forward want their issue dealt with quickly.

“What is the justice in making us wait while the yo-yo goes back and forth?” Patricia Falkenberg asked the council during public testimony on the ordinance Wednesday.

But the commission believes its duty is to look at each zone in conjunction with others.

“P and Z was recently chastised for not having a better process to vet the land use table, but given the timeline given by council, P and Z didn’t have the luxury to establish a detailed processes, so rather, we dug in and worked diligently to try and meet the publics land use desires, stakeholder concerns, and the timelines imposed,”

Commissioner Karen Koester said in her testimony. “I believe we have succeeded.”

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