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Kenai land debate continues

Council to take up zoning ordinance

Posted: September 7, 2011 - 9:23am  |  Updated: September 8, 2011 - 9:45am

On the agenda for Wednesday's Kenai City Council meeting is an ordinance that could change the allowed land uses in the Rural Residential 1 zoning district.

The ordinance started as a local effort to control what development could occur in a particular area. The change affects two neighborhoods: the MAPS neighborhood, which is across the highway from Kenai Central High School, and the Three Ws neighborhood, farther north but on the same side of the road as MAPS.

Residents of those neighborhoods worked with Councilman Bob Molloy on an ordinance that would alter the land use table, eliminating uses neighbors didn't feel were compatible with their rural residential lifestyle.

That work began in September 2010, and in April Molloy introduced the ordinance.

Since then, the council, the city's planning and zoning commission and the public have scrutinized the document.

"We've heard... a lot of verbal comments and a lot of written comments," Molloy said.

Now there are three versions of the ordinance to consider, and Molloy has indicated that he'll ask for amendments at tonight's meeting.

Among the most contentious issues is whether or not to allow development along the Kenai Spur Highway.

"We're against that," said Chuck Winegarden.

Whether various small business uses should be allowed in the neighborhoods - mostly as conditional uses, which require approval from the commission - is another dilemma.

Pat Falkenberg, a long-time resident, said that professional offices aren't a problem. But coffee shops and retail businesses are. One problem is that they could attract kids from nearby Kenai Middle School and Kenai Central High School, she said.

Local traffic is another issue.

"We really don't want ... businesses that will push traffic into our back streets," Falkenberg said.

Winegarden noted that many streets - like Princess - are unpaved and have few residents. More traffic would tear up the road, he said.

The planning and zoning substitute ordinance allows more uses than the ones the neighbors worked on. That ordinance developed from a comprehensive look at land use in each of Kenai's zones, and it takes into account testimony from the landowners, including one who didn't agree with the rest: the Alaska Mental Health Trust. The trust owns land and mineral rights throughout the state, for the benefit of mental health services. That organization has testified that limiting commercial uses would diminish the value of its land.

The council is scheduled to vote, and both Molloy and Bookey said they want to see the vote happen tonight - no more postponement.

"I was ready to vote August 17 and I'll be ready to vote September 7," Molloy said.

But the issue has become more than just what land uses are allowed where.

For many residents, it's a matter of whether or not the government will listen to the people and the path the ordinance has traveled.

"We basically have time and time and time again been ignored," Falkenberg said.

Falkenberg said the neighborhood has been advocating for similar changes since the 1980s. Winegarden bought land on Princess in 1999. He's been part of the process since 2009.

Falkenberg said she has neighbors who will no longer testify at city meetings, "because they don't believe that it does any good."

Winegarden said some of his neighbors feel the same way.

Molloy said he's heard that sentiment, but he wants the public to continue working with the city.

"I want our public to have confidence in all of us and what we do," Molloy said.

Molloy said he thought the council and the commission had worked hard to come to a final product. It took some time, but the end result is worth it, he said.

"I think the process to get us to September 7 was necessary," he said.

The timing has been a point of frustration for many residents, but the councilmen said they understood the need to undergo a thorough process.

"I'm a little disappointed that we're into September, but I thought that it was important to get a recommendation from planning and zoning," Bookey said.

Over the past several months, planning and zoning reviewed the land use table for every zone. Their recommendation is based on that review. At their last meeting, Aug. 30, commissioner Tim Navarre said the body will continue to work on the remaining zones. The intention is to bring those changes to the council later this fall.

Molloy said he appreciated the time and work everyone had put into the ordinance, from the council, the commission and the public. Bookey agreed.

"I appreciate all the work that's gone into it," Bookey said.

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