Kenai’s Planning and Zoning Commission passed its most recent version of the city’s comprehensive plan to the Kenai City Council at a Tuesday work session. The commission, consultants, planners and city administration have spent two years refining the document.
City Manager Rick Koch said the process undertaken to update the city’s comprehensive plan has been the most inclusive and thorough he has been part of.
Other city officials agreed.
“In general, I think everything we have heard (from the public) has been included in the plan,” City Planner Marilyn Kebschull said.
During the 30-day comment period, the city received 33 recommendations from city residents. Although the city did not grant residents a public comment period extension as some requested, it did continue to collect their comments.
In total, the city gathered 152 comments from Sept. 19 to Dec. 20; held 24 public work sessions; and distributed two newsletters, various public notices and two community surveys, according to a city document handed out at the Tuesday work session.
But still, residents said they wanted more public input.
Gerald Brookman, who served three years on the planning and zoning committee, said he is disappointed the city did not attempt to actively engage more residents.
“Most folks have busy lives and don’t read the legal notices,” he said at the work session, reading from prepared material.
Larger cities like Anchorage use community councils to actively involve residents when revising documents such as comprehensive plans, and Kenai should have implemented a similar model, he said.
During planning and zoning work sessions that sometimes lasted almost three hours, residents mainly from Beaver Loop Road and the MAPS subdivision — Magic and Aliak Drive, Princess Street, and the Spur Highway — gave their input, but few other residential areas were represented at those meetings.
Jeff Twait, Planning and Zoning Commission chair, said he agreed that the plan’s revisions should have included more public and diverse input, but it was not for lack of effort.
“It seems like we could get more people to participate in these things but ... short of giving away door prizes, I don’t know how,” Twait said.
Vice chair of the commission Henry Knackstedt said they will use more social media in the future to reach a greater audience.
The two major changes to the plan include reclassifying the Beaver Loop Road corridor as rural residential on the future land use map and adding chapter three to address the city’s Alaska Native community, Twait said.
He said some of the greatest public resistance the commission encountered were with land use classifications, particularly in the areas of Beaver Loop Road and the MAPS subdivision.
But some of the public’s land-use concerns were a result of confusion, he said. While the land use classification does guide future zoning changes, it does not guide current construction, according to the plan.
But, Brookman said, the land use classification is a slippery slope. In particular, he is disappointed with the land labeled mixed use, he said.
“I understand that that is not itself a zoning change, but it would inevitably be used, at some future time, to justify a change in zoning in those areas,” he said.
The mixed use classification promotes “retail, service, office, public, institutional, recreational and residential uses,” according to the plan. These uses may include small businesses, like doctor’s or lawyer’s offices, but not large-scale commercial industries, Kebschull said.
The city council will vote to approve or rescind the plan at a March 20 council meeting at Kenai City Hall, 210 Fidalgo Ave.
If the council does not approve the plan, it will go back to the commission for further revisions. At the Tuesday work session, Mayor Pat Porter said she would like the council to move forward with the plan.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.