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Kenai voters decide fate of comprehensive plan

Posted: September 24, 2013 - 10:03pm

Kenai residents will weigh in on the city’s recently completed comprehensive plan during the Oct. 1 municipal election.

A referendum filed by Mark Schrag, who is running for one of the two city council seats, put Kenai Proposition No. 1 on the ballot.

A “yes” vote on the proposition will repeal the council’s approval of the new comprehensive plan. A “no” vote means the ordinance approving the plan will take effect.

Schrag says he filed the referendum because the new plan promotes sprawl, disregards the development of a city center, generally does not reflect resident and buisness interests, and is “flawed” in the process used to create it. His issues with the plan are in chapters five and six — the chapters that outline land use and city goals, he said.

“The bottom line is (the plan) doesn’t reflect what the citizens want in their vision of the future,” he said.

The comprehensive plan legally justifies zoning, land use regulations, permitting and all city land use decisions, according to chapter one of the plan. The plan also outlines the city’s “vision for the future.”

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Jeff Twait and Henry Knackstedt, commission vice chair, said the plan is ready for approval.

Twait said residents’ confusion about the definition of land use is the source of the controversy.

Many residents, he said, think land use is zoning — and it isn’t. Land use looks at what the best use of a lot is, currently and in the future, Knackstedt said.

“It’s nothing more than just a crystal-ball look into the future,” Twait said.

The mixed-use land use classification is another source of controversy, Knackstedt said.

Initially, the plan considered changing the land use classification to mixed use along sections of the Kenai Spur Highway, Beaver Loop Road and Angler Drive, and Kalifornsky Beach Road, he said.

The mixed use classification “fosters a compatible mix of retail, service, office, public, institutional, recreational and residential uses,” according to chapter five in the plan.

Many residents thought the classification would introduce industrial or other inappropriate zones into their neighborhoods, Knackstedt said. But the classification is intended for areas such as Soldotna’s Fireweed Lane and Marydale Avenue, he said.

Public testimony to the contrary, however, pared down where the classification would apply. Beaver Loop Road, Anger Drive and sections of the Spur Highway were removed from the classification, he said.

But Schrag said the issue remains unresolved. The request to reclassify will be back, he said.

“(Beaver Loop Road residents are) going to be fighting that all the time down there. They shouldn’t be,” he said. “That’s Kenai’s best choice for residential development.”

Laura Sievert, a resident of Beaver Loop Road, said she supports the referendum to reject the plan. The mixed use classification is a slippery slope to zoning, and she does not want the Spur Highway to look like sections of Wasilla, she said.

But that is inaccurate, Twait said. Any rezone follows an extensive public process, he said.

Schrag said the mixed use classification promotes commercial sprawl though out the city. Sprawl on the Spur Highway, sections of which are still classified mixed use under the plan, will distract from business development in the city’s center, congest traffic and ruin city aesthetics, he said.

The development of business hubs — like a city center — would be the better choice, he said.

A city center, though, has not been defined in 10 years, Knackstedt said. Millennium Square is an often-discussed location, but the eroding bluffs behind the location halt any potential development, he said.

Kenai is simply unsuitable for a city center, Twait said. The city is not set up in a grid, Knackstedt said, and the bluffs and Kenai River eliminate most locations as options, Twait said.

Sievert said another concern is that the process used to create the plan was not advertised well.

“You didn’t hear about it unless you read the fine-print notices in the Clarion,” she said.

With the prevalence of social media, she said the city could use more effective means of notifying its residents of important meetings.

Schrag said that is a concern of his, too. Also, at the April 17 meeting in which the plan was approved, he said the council too heavily amended the plan to approve it the same night. The council voted on more than 20 amendments.

Knackstedt disagrees with Sievert and Schrag. The city hosted more than 30 public hearings and took out ads in the Clarion and over the radio, among other outreach methods, he said.

Council member Tim Navarre, who voted in favor of the plan, said the process was the most involved he has ever been a part of. It included the input from the Native community, buisness community and residential community, he said.

“I believe the only thing the city failed to do was pull a banner from an airplane and invite people,” Knackstedt said. “We also didn’t pull people in on the arm.”

The only reason the plan’s approval is being challenged is because certain residents are using the public process to “derail” the city’s growth, said Navarre.

“If you analyze it, it’s a good plan,” he said.

Navarre voted for the plan because it moves the city in the right direction and it addresses quality of life issues, he said. The plan includes a “vision” of Millennium Square and the bluff erosion project as an “imperative,” not a “vision,” he said.

More than $100,000 and hundreds of hours have been spent in developing the plan, Knackstedt said. If ballot proposition No. 1 were to overturn the plan, all that money and time would be thrown out, too, he said.

“I honestly believe the only reason it’s on the ballot for everybody to look at is there’s an ordinance that says any ordinance in city council with enough signatures can be on the ballot,” Navarre said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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