Both Kenai mayoral candidates agree that Kenai has a city center, but each have a different definition.
Bob Molloy, who is running against incumbent Pat Porter, said the city’s center is in the area of Willow Street, both sides of the Kenai Spur Highway, Vintage Point Manor, Millennium Square and the Kenai Municipal Airport.
Porter said Leif Hansen Memorial Park is the city’s center.
The candidates in an Aug. 20 interview with the Clarion answered questions about business and residential development, the comprehensive plan, the personal-use dipnet fishery, bluff erosion, and residents’ concerns for the city.
Molloy has served as a council member for almost eight years. Porter is completing her third three-year term as mayor.
At many work sessions and city council and planning and zoning meetings addressing the comprehensive plan then under revision, residents have asked that the city create a plan to focus the development of a city center. Many of the residents live on Beaver Loop and the MAPS subdivision — Magic and Aliak Drive, Princess Street, and the Kenai Spur Highway.
Molloy said in the interview that he wishes there was as great a discussion of options for developing a city center in Millennium Square as there was in the 2003 comprehensive plan. The crumbling bluffs behind the square are an often-used excuse for not developing the area, he said, “but that can be too much of an excuse.”
Leif Hansen Memorial Park marks the seam between Old Town Kenai and the newer parts of the city, Porter said. That makes it an ideal location for a city center, she said. Situated on the edge of the Spur Highway, the park is in the hub of the city, she said.
“Is it a Norman Rockefeller one? No,” she said. “The Norman Rockefeller is very hard to do in a town that has been pieced together.”
Both candidates have different opinions on where the city should develop business.
Molloy said business development should be focused in the area he defined as a city center, and also at the Kenai Industrial Park. Bridge Access Road, at and around the intersection of Beaver Loop Road, is a good location for industrial development, he said. Beaver Loop Road, where it meets the Spur Highway, is a good spot for hubs of commercial development, he said. Thompson Park is suitable for limited commercial development, he said.
He also wants to develop vacant buildings, like Lowe’s or the blue professional development building across from the movie theater, he said.
He opposes developing the entire corridor of the Spur Highway. Residents, many from the Three Ws Subdivision, have resisted commercial and industrial development between Walmart’s property to McCollum Drive, he said.
Porter said, in general, development should not be focused in any particular areas of the city. The city has to negotiate with businesses to “want them to locate in your town, because if they don’t locate in your town, then you’re going to have your citizens driving somewhere else — and then their tax dollars will be spent somewhere else.”
Retail development would fit well between Walmart and Willow Street, she said. Businesses like Taco Bell need to locate on the Spur Highway — they require visibility — but most of the highway property is privately owned, she said.
The Kenai Municipal Airport also owns a lot of land in the city, and those lots have to be developed for the benefit of the airport, she said.
Both candidates, in an April 17 city council meeting that lasted for three hours, voted to approve the comprehensive plan.
Although he voted in favor of the plan after he proposed many amendments, some of which were rejected, Molloy said a lot of residents think the plan is not ready for approval. Ballot proposition one if proof of that, he said. A “yes” vote on the proposition will repeal the ordinance approving the plan.
He takes “no position” on the referendum.
Porter said the comprehensive plan is complete, and she supports the proposed commercial development along sections of the Spur Highway. There was plenty of public process in developing the plan, too, she said.
Many residents speaking against the plan said its approval was rushed and are concerned with proposed land use.
But Porter said portions of the plan are revised annually as the city changes. And those are made with “active citizen involvement,” she said.
“A plan is a plan,” she said.
Also, residents opposed to change, she said, “will kill your town.”
Both candidates agree that the personal-use dipnet fishery was managed better this year. The plans implemented made the difference, they said.
Molloy said to better manage the fishery in the long term, the Sate of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Borough need to cooperate more with the city. The city should work with the state to develop a state user-fee system to spread costs across all dipnetters, he said. Currently, many dipnetters evade parking and camping fees, he said.
Porter said she heard no complaints from residents this year about the dipnet fishery.
“No smells,” she said. “It was great.”
“In a perfect world, people would have to take the whole fish off the beach,” she said. “It’s a constant learning thing, and you should always strive to improve any service you’re providing.”
Molloy and Porter said the largest problem in managing the fishery is dealing with the crowds of dipnetters.
Porter said the city should hire a helicopter, during the fishery’s busiest days, to survey where dipnetters are parking and where the beaches suffer the most impact.
The candidates differ on the timeline that should be set for the bluff erosion project.
Molloy said the project should be funded, built and completed in the next mayor’s three-year term. Porter said the city cannot set a timeframe for the project’s completion.
The $41 million project requires federal and state funding.
The funding for the project can be expedited, Molloy said.
“They mayor and the (city) manager can go to D.C. with the delegation and meet with the (Army) Corps of Engineers to move it along,” he said.
Porter said the city is waiting for the project’s federal funding, and U.S. Senator Mark Begich “is carrying the ball in that court.”
City residents’ top concerns for the city at large, Molloy said, are the airport tree removal project, Vintage Point Manor rent increases, developing more parks and trails, and city work session transparency.
Porter said residents want more retail development, bike paths and better bike path marking. Residents also are concerned with public safety, streets and snow removal, she said.
City residents can vote for their next mayor Oct. 1.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.