Kenai City Council members said they will seek to revise portions of the city’s draft comprehensive plan following about seven months of resident testimony and a three-hour Friday work session.
“You hit your head on the wall enough and you’ll get a headache,” Council Member Mike Boyle said during the work session about the proposed mixed-use classification along the Kenai Spur Highway corridor, “and I’m getting a headache.”
Council Member Terry Bookey said he will make two motions at Wednesday night’s council meeting — one to chase the mixed-use classification from the section of the Kenai Spur Highway between Princess Street and Highbush Lane; the other to preserve a residential-commercial buffer along an island of trees on the west side of Walker Lane by changing its land use classification.
The council also discussed steps for prioritizing the development of a city center.
Boookey said the public has argued often and well why it does not want the mixed-use land use classification along much of the Kenai Spur Highway corridor.
“We have had that fight, and we have had that fight time and time again,” he said.
Residents opposed to the mixed-use classification along the highway said it will open a door for future large-scale commercial development.
“I think we should think very carefully before we take step one of the zoning process,” Kristine Schmidt said.
Don Wright said he does not want Kenai’s highway corridor to look like the stretch of the Sterling Highway that runs through Soldotna.
But City Planner Marilyn Kebschull said land use classifications, such as mixed-use, are not slippery slopes for future zoning changes.
“Land use in not zoning,” she said.
The proposed land use classification for the highway corridor is “just one of the tools” used to potentially rezone an area, she said. Many other factors — like a city’s infrastructure, topography, transportation and its community needs — guide zoning decisions, she said. The city’s comprehensive plan’s goals would also have to support a zoning decision, she said.
For a Walmart or Best Buy, for example, to break ground along the highway, all those factors would have to line up, she said.
“(Land use) is only one part of a very, very big puzzle that’s used,” Kebschull said. And nothing can happen, she said, unless the council approves it in a public meeting.
Many residents also testified at Friday’s work session — and many other council meetings and public hearings — that they want to preserve the buffers between residential communities and commercial development.
Bookey said his motion to reclassify the buffer of trees along the west side of Walker Lane, from the Kenai Spur Highway to Tern Avenue, as Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces will be a step in that direction.
Mark Schrag said the buffers protect the quality of life for residential neighborhoods.
The majority of testimony during the seven-month comprehensive plan draft period has come from a core group of residents of Beaver Loop and the MAPS subdivision — Magic and Aliak Drive, Princess Street, and the Kenai Spur Highway.
Bookey said, however, that he received numerous emails and phone calls from “others who’s names you don’t see in the Planning and Zoning reports or records of meetings” who wanted to preserve residential-commercial buffers.
The comprehensive plan received more criticism for what residents said was a lack of planning for a city center.
“We’ve got 20 acres of land right in the center of downtown and we need to let people know that someday something’s going to happen there,” said Peter Hansen, a long-time advocate for developing Millennium Square.
In past comprehensive plan meetings and work sessions, he has said that the plan needed to include a detailed artist rendering of Millennium Square to guide future development for the area. He made the same request during Friday’s work session.
Hansen, a doctor, said the largest medical conferences he has attended were in Kenai. The city has good airport access and recreation opportunities and it could advertise Millennium Square as a conference center, he said.
“Just think about it,” he said. “If we don’t do it, someone in the Central Peninsula will do it.”
Council Members Ryan Marquis and Tim Navarre said they want the Millennium Square rendering as an appendix in the back of the comprehensive plan.
Boyle said he wants the plan to have a stronger statement about developing a city center like Millennium Square.
“Discussion is a good thing to get people thinking this could be the jewel of the city,” he said.
Council will meet 7 p.m., Wednesday in city hall, 210 Fidalgo Ave. in Kenai.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.