After two months on the job, new Kenai City Planner Matt Kelley has gone from the California sun to the land of the midnight sun.
Kelley, 33, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, made the move to Alaska from Fort Bragg, California in July after his wife, Melissa Kelley, was hired at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. When he saw a vacancy for Kenai city planner, he said the position was an opportunity to put his coastal planning experience to use. He was hired as Kenai city planner in early September.
Kelley has seven years of county planning experience he gained from working for three counties in northern California. He started out as a planner in Shasta County, and then worked as a solid waste planner for Contra Costa County.
In his last position, he was a coastal planner for Mendocino County, which has a population of about 87,000 people. He said it would be a welcome adjustment to transition from a county with a higher density population compared to a city with a population shy of 8,000 people.
Kelley graduated from California State University Chico in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Geography with a concentration in Planning and Development. He has a certificate in Geographic Information Systems Technology (GIS).
Kelley said the GIS portion of his job requires he maintains the citiy’s GIS land-use and development database, which includes water and sewer lines, subdivisions and zoning information.
Kelley replaced Francis Krizmanich, who was not retained after his six-month probation period ended in July.
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said Kelley brings an educational background in planning and GIS that is going to be “extremely beneficial to the city.”
“Kenai is on the cusp of significant development and I see many changes,” he said. “Someone who has educational training how to deal with development issues and economic issues is going to be very valuable.”
Koch said Krizmanich, who was hired in January from Colorado, wasn’t a great fit for the position.
“We ran in both directions,” he said. “We hadn’t been fortunate through several recruitments in the past. We were lucky enough to find someone local who had skills important to us.”
Kelley said he is getting acclimated to the position by reviewing zoning codes, planning ordinances and code enforcement. His first priority is to update the current subdivision regulations, which are outdated, he said.
In California he said planners deal with storm water management and try to keep it on site. He said he would look to bring that into the new subdivision ordinance and look at how other parts of the state have written their subdivision plans and borrow from them.
“There is a lot of room for improvement in the subdivision ordinance,” he said. “Alaska state statutes require timelines for how long it takes to process things. I will work to clean up areas of the ordinance and expand on storm water and street design.”
Koch said an update to subdivision regulations has been high on his priority list for a long time.
“In 10 years we have seen little in subdivision development but we are seeing it now,” he said. “Two 40-lot subdivisions are going through the process now. In order to provide better, clear direction to developers so they don’t get surprised and we don’t find conflicts, we need to get things done.”
With the anticipation of future growth in Kenai, Kelley said as a pre-emptive measure he is looking at the zoning plan and believes there is room for additional residential development in the northeastern area of city limits. Further development depends on expanding infrastructure and potentially moving city water and sewer to adequately serve those areas, he said.
He said he also thinks there is room for infill development with parcels within the city that are underdeveloped and older buildings that could be renovated or torn down and converted to mixed-use with a commercial office space on the bottom and residential on top.
“I think it would work really well, especially along the Kenai Spur Highway,” he said.
Kelley said at some point in 2015 the planning and zoning department would begin creating a new comprehensive plan after Kenai voters rejected the last plan last October. He said his role through that process will be project manager. He will look to facilitate public hearings.
He said getting the public involved early in the process would be essential so the document is something the entire community can feel comfortable with.
Kelley said he is also familiarizing himself with the transitional housing ordinance the council postponed at a September meeting to allow him time to review the progress the commission made on the document. He said he will need to schedule a work session with the council and planning and zoning commission to see what areas of the code need to be improved.
One of the things that attracted him to Kenai was the beautiful landscape along the coast of Cook Inlet. He said he enjoyed walks with his wife along the California coast and would like to see a trail built along the Kenai River that connects Old Town and along Bridge Access Road.
Kelley said while his job is applicant driven, his focus is to serve the public and help applicants through the permit process.
“I worked under a wise planner that told me, ‘We are here to guide people along their hopes and dreams,’” Kelley said.
“If someone bought a piece of property, their goal is to develop it but they may not know how to get there. Our job is to help them get to that point. If people want to build a house or subdivide property I look at myself as a guide to help them go through the process.”
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.