Kenai City Council members heavily amended a draft comprehensive plan during a three and a half hour council meeting Wednesday night. The council has to vote on all the remaining amendments before it can pass the comprehensive plan to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for approval.
Two amendments the council unanimously passed concern the mixed-use land use classification proposed for the Kenai Spur Highway and the strip of trees along Walker Lane that buffer residents from commercial development.
Council Member Terry Bookey proposed an amendment to eliminate the mixed-use classification on the Kenai Spur Highway from Princess Street to Highbush Lane and reclassify it as suburban residential on the land use map.
He said his proposal came from months of public testimony against the mixed-use classification.
“I have absolutely no problem, my personal self, from Princess (Street) to McCollum (Drive), and I would definitely support that,” Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said. But she cannot support Bookey’s entire proposal.
She said businesses along the highway will benefit from the change in land use classification. Many of the businesses along the highway are already in homes, she said.
After debate, the council changed Bookey’s amendment to reclassify the highway corridor from Princess Street to McCollum Drive as suburban residential but left McCollum Drive from Highbush Lane as mixed-use on the land use map.
Since public testimony on the plan, a group of city residents have been opposed to the proposed mixed-use land use classification along the Kenai Spur Highway corridor.
“Mixed use just leaves so much else, so many other commercial things,” Princess Drive resident Mark Schrag said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Other residents said they did not want commercial businesses like Walmarts encroaching on the neighborhoods near the highway. Don Wright said at a March 29 city work session that he did not want the highway to look like the stretch of the Sterling Highway that runs through Soldotna.
Those supporting the mixed-use classification said it is necessary for the city’s development.
“Basically what we’re building here is the thoroughfare between Kenai and Soldotna,” said Gary Hinkle, a property owner along the highway. He said the highway will become similar to the Seward Highway.
Hinkle said certain businesses that would like to move to town require highway-front property and that land needs to be put in the “highest possible use.”
“Mixed (use) and commercial (land use classifications) is a minimum,” he said.
Clifford Smith, a small buisness owner and planning and zoning commissioner, said he bought a piece of property along the highway that he intends one day to develop and move his Soldotna-based business into.
“Think about the impact your decisions would have on other businesses moving to the area,” Smith said to the council.
The mixed-use classification on the land use map “fosters a compatible mix of retail, service, office, public, institutional, recreational and residential uses,” according to the plan.
Also Bookey proposed the amendment to reclassify the buffer of trees west of Walker Lane as parks, recreation and open space on the land use map.
“I think that section of land serves a very valuable purpose,” he said. It is a buffer between incompatible land uses — the commercial development west of Walker Lane and homes east of the street.
The tree buffer runs from the highway to West Tern Avenue.
Borough Planner Crista Cady said the borough supports retaining the Walker Lane buffer strip.
After discussion, Vice Mayor Ryan Marquis suggested amending the proposal to cut down roughly a third of Bookey’s proposed parks, recreation and open space for the buffer of trees.
The council unanimously passed Bookey’s amendment with Marquis’ stipulation.
The final amendment classifies about two-thirds of the buffer as parks, recreation and open space — from about where the driveway access cuts through to McDonald’s from the street to the south end of the buffer. It classifies the rest as commercial.
Porter said the city airport owns the plot containing the buffer and the land has to be used for its benefit. She said the city may have to buy the plot from the airport to keep it as a buffer strip.
But City Manager Rick Koch said that will not be necessary as the buffer is in the interest of the commercial development and the airport.
All amendments the council approved will be incorporated in the plan’s final version. The council will meet next to vote on the rest of the amendments April 17 at Kenai City Hall, 210 Fidalgo Ave.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.