New Kenai city planner welcomes citizen input

Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion New Kenai City Planner Francis Krizmanich sits at his desk at city hall last Thursday. Krizmanich moved to Kenai from Aspen, Colorado, where he spent the last 17 years as a planning consultant to the city.

The City of Kenai’s new city planner has converted from a tourist to a local.

Francis Krizmanich, 58, and his wife Betsy first visited Alaska this past August, rented a motor home in Anchorage and toured the Kenai Peninsula. He said they were so impressed with the area he asked his wife her thoughts on him looking for a job up here. Following an in-person interview with Kenai officials near the end of December, Krizmanich was hired as city planner and started Jan. 29.

He said he is excited about the city’s potential and hearing from citizens on what matters to them.

“I’m just a babe in the woods right now,” he said. “I am still getting familiar with the area driving around learning what the issues are.”

Krizmanich has worked as a consultant on subdivision house approvals in Aspen, Colo., for the last 17 years. He worked with the city and county as a zoning administrator and assistant planning director involved in special projects like ski area master plans and airport expansions.

In the short term, the City of Kenai will be updating various land use code items as well as developing new subdivision regulations, he said. A lot of his time will be devoted to reviewing ordinances and making upgrades to subdivision street design. He is also in the process of hiring an assistant city planner.

Krizmanich said the main point of discussion at the last planning and zoning commission meeting Feb. 12 was about transitional housing. He said the committee has been pro-active in getting basic regulations in place to help finds homes for homeless families and individuals because nothing presently exists.

One of his long-term goals is creating a new comprehensive plan since Kenai voters rejected the previous one last October. He said while he has not yet reviewed the failed plan because the city cannot work on it for two years, he would like to hear input from the citizens on what they didn’t like.

“From my understanding, it sounds like folks don’t want to see commercial buildings in their neighborhoods,” he said. “Most places are getting away from doing highway commercial. We have all these vacant places from here to Soldotna.”

Krizmanich said he hopes to revitalize the large empty box stores like the former Lowe’s building and open space in the Kenai Mall. He said he shares Mayor Pat Porter’s concern in revitalizing vacant buildings and beautifying the city.

“People say we don’t have a lot of land to develop, I see a lot left to develop in town,” he said. “The vacant buildings are not doing anybody any good. I see that as a huge challenge and opportunity at the same time.”

As for the future of the city, Krizmanich does not expect big changes. He is following the proposed natural gas pipeline plans in Nikiski, which may mean a lot of development down the road.

“I want to know what direction does the city want to go in the future,” he said. “How do we want to develop our downtown and the more rural parts of town? Kenai is a big sprawling city that covers a lot of area. We have a lot of opportunities.”

Krizmanich said he is fortunate to be able to start work in the winter when it is quiet because it gives him time to learn the ropes. In the next couple months he expects more building permits to come in as new businesses gear up for the summer season. He said it would be nice to see a microbrewery open in town, keeping up with neighbor cities Soldotna and Nikiski, which have three combined.

While he doesn’t expect the City of Kenai to explode into a metropolitan area, he said he looks forward to working with Porter and the city council to make downtown a “nice livable, active urban environment.”

Krizmanich attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina in 1981, the same time Michael Jordan played for the Tar Heels. While at Chapel Hill he met his wife, who went to Duke University.

He said he had intended to visit Alaska during his trip to the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago out of graduate school but ran out of money. His first experience in the Kenai Peninsula from the views of Mt. Reboubt to the abundance of outdoor activities made this an ideal place to live, he said.

He towed up a snowmachine and his mountain bikes and made the drive from Colorado to Alaska up the Alaska Highway. He said he is looking forward to salmon fishing and seeing all the crowds during dipnet season. He is currently looking for a house and waiting for his wife to move up after selling her business.

“That is the only downside of the whole deal being apart from her,” he said. “People here are friendly. Things move at a slower pace here, but people seem to be more welcoming.”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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