The three Kenai City Council candidates have three different opinions of where the city should guide its business development.
Terry Bookey and Brian Gabriel Sr., both incumbents, and Mark Schrag answered questions in an Aug. 20 Clarion interview about where the city should focus its business development, what the city’s top priorities are, and what their projects and goals are if they are elected.
City elections are Oct. 1.
Property in the area of Willow Street and Main Street Loop is suitable for business development, Bookey said. The frontage property near the Salvation Army could be updated and serve for business development, too, he said.
Gabriel said business development should cluster around the Kenai Municipal Airport and the airport’s land leases. Also, the Marathon Road industrial park and Cook Inlet oil development will likely help promote business growth of the airport lands, he said.
Schrag said business development should be sequestered to hubs. Walmart owns several outlying lots that could house those hubs, the vacant Lowe’s building could do the job, and so could sections of the Kenai Spur Highway — but not the whole corridor, he said.
Neither Bookey nor Schrag support developing businesses along the corridor of the Spur Highway as Soldotna has.
“As long as I have lived here and can remember, the majority of the community seems opposed to it,” Bookey said.
Business development of the Spur Highway would detract from the area’s aesthetics and neighborhood cohesion, he said. Schrag said business development would create bad traffic.
The city should revitalize areas already developed before breaking new ground along the Spur Highway, Bookey said. Schrag said with smart planning, the city can find other land to develop.
Gabriel qualified business development. He opposes developing more Walmarts, Lowe’s or other box stores along the Spur Highway corridor, he said. But certain types of “low-volume, low-impact” businesses would be suitable, such as law or doctor offices, he said.
And already, he said, sections of the Spur Highway are developed. There are businesses along the section of highway between Tinker Lane and Strawberry Road, he said. The highway is not a “free-for-all open for development,” he said.
Completing the bluff erosion project is the city’s top priority, Bookey said. Rehabilitating and expanding the city’s existing infrastructure — such as the city did with its new water treatment facility and the instillation of its fourth well — trouble shooting the personal-use dipnet fishery, and making the city more attractive to residents and businesses are the city’s other priorities, he said.
To achieve those goals, the city must maintain its stable tax rate, but that most be done responsibly, he said. The city must continue to sustain its parks and recreation, public safety, animal control, library, recreation center, Kenai Municipal Airport, and quality of life, he said. The city must also work with congressional and state delegations to secure funding for the bluff erosion project, he said.
Schrag said the city’s top priority is making the city a good place for residents and businesses to settle — but it must better balance residential interests. The city also needs to increase its residential base and focus on small-business development, he said.
If the city were to pay more attention to best practice city planning, and maybe hire a professional planner, it could achieve his outlined goals, he said. It has to cooperate with small businesses, too, he said.
Improving its management of the dipnet fishery is the city’s top priority, Gabriel said. The fishery affects the most people at once, he said. Developing airport lands and building more parks, playgrounds, and biking and walking trails are other city goals, he said.
If re-elected, Bookey plans to continue building more pedestrian trails and addressing the “quality of life things” that keep people in the city, he said. He was also co-sponsored the legislation that allowed city council to vet planning and zoning commission members, and he wants to continue making city government more effective and the public process more transparent, he said.
Schrag has spent hours in city council testifying as a resident, he said.
“A lot of it’s been pretty frustrating, and I figure it’s time for me to move to the front of the room,” he said.
City council meetings should be more inviting and provide a “safer atmosphere” for other residents, he said. As a council member, he said he can represent small-business owners or the “average Joe” who don’t have enough representation, he said.
Gabriel’s reasons for running again are the same as they were three years ago, he said. He wants the city to provide good job opportunities to young families, offer good opportunities for seniors, maintain its high level of services and low tax rate, and improve parks and trail systems, he said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.