In a nearly three-hour City of Kenai Planning and Zoning work session, the planning commission reviewed 14 pages of resident-submitted critiques on the early stages of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
When the work session closed, the commission still had 39 pages to review. They will host another work session Nov. 14 to finish reading the comments.
Thirty-three residents submitted comments during the 30-day public comment period ranging from the city’s options for affordable housing to zoning issues. An additional six comments made the list after the public comment period closed, and City Planner Marilyn Kebschull said she is adding to that list as further comments arrive.
“We’ll just keep adding the other ones until the commission is satisfied that they have gone through enough,” she said.
Many residents wrote in comments that the public comment period was too short, however, and, in a separate city council meeting, council member Bob Molloy requested the commission extend the period.
“I feel I didn’t have enough time,” said Kristine Schmidt, one of the four residents in attendance.
After hearing Schmidt and two other residents request for more comment period time, commissioner Clifford Smith suggested the commission extend the comment period.
The commission, however, did not extend the comment period.
City Manager Rick Koch said in the past 17 months, the city hosted 18 public meetings and hearings to solicit public comments on the plan. During that time, the city also posted comment forms on its website, in City Hall and various other locations, he said.
“I have been involved in several updates to comprehensive plans,” he said, “and in my experience the attention focused on public participation and input for this comprehensive plan is far greater than previous updates in which I have been involved.”
Appendix A in the plan also describes the nearly two-year process when the commission drafted the plan, Kebschull said.
She said the plan is in only its early stages, and residents will have more time to critique it in the future as it undergoes revisions.
In one of the submitted comments, Beverly Crandell said the plan favors wealthy demographics in the community.
“Why do I say this?” she wrote. “Because with a number of my friends who are struggling to make ends meet, the city’s focus in this plan puts a medium priority on frivolous things like making landscaping requirements for all types of zones, and beautifying the city.”
Under this phase of the draft, the plan would reclassify the Highland Pride Mobile Home Park as rural residential.
The classification caters to “large-lot, single-family, low-density” developments. Sandra Lashbrook, the mobile home park owner, said the new classification would render mobile homes as non-conforming.
Crandell said, instead, the city needs to plan for more affordable housing. The rural residential classifications in the plan do not accommodate lower income families, she said.
Comments from Jacquie Stauffer, Jerry Thornton, Mr. and Mrs. James Patten, Janet Weir, Don and Lori Leritz, Angela O’Brien and Lashbrook echoed Crandell’s concerns.
As a solution to Crandell’s comment, Kebschull said the commission will create strategies to ensure the city accommodates adequate affordable housing and determine if adequate property is zoned multi-family.
She said the city can not remedy the situation beyond that, because it can not finance affordable housing.
“Through land use planning,” she said, “what we can do is ensure there’s a sufficient supply of land zoned that would accommodate multi-family, and the reason I suggested that is I know a lot of folks, when they’re starting out, they live in apartments — and apartments are multi-family.”
Another resident, Christa Cady, suggested the commission reprioritize plans for Millennium Square to further develop the area.
Schmidt said the plan needs to address development of the square, regardless of the commission’s intent to develop it.
“Just something so people in the community have an idea of what’s going to happen with that,” she said.
After deliberation, Kebschull said the commission will draft a new strategy to promote development of the square.
“People had some really good suggestions,” she said in an interview after the meeting, “and changes were made that I think were really good.”
The changes the commission proposed will go the city council and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission for final deliberation.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been revised to correct a typographical error.