Pit burdens neighborhood

Homeowners petition borough to rezone Kalifornsky subdivision residential
Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department The highlighted property at the corner of Ciechanski Road and Virginia Drive is a gravel pit owned by Sean Cude. Property owners in the Diamond Willow-Fairfield subdivision have petitioned the borough for a local option zoning district that would change the rural district to single-residential that requires all parcels to be subdivided into within 50 percent of the mathmatical mean of each pacel in the district.

After extensive discussion, the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly postponed an ordinance that delayed the rezoning of a Kalifornsky neighborhood to address a gravel pit that area residents say have affected their quality of life.

 

Property owners in the Diamond Willow-Fairfield subdivision off Ciechanski Road who petitioned for a local option zoning district and requested the ordinance move forward left the assembly meeting Tuesday frustrated after the ordinance was postponed to a March meeting.

Travis and Crystal Penrod, homeowners on Virginia Drive, have been fighting for greater land use restrictions in the neighborhood for 15 years. The Penrods have spent countless hours in an effort to change the zoning in their subdivision from rural to single-family residential that would force the owner of a gravel pit at the corner of Ciechanski Road and Virginia Drive to fill the hole that have become an “eyesore” to surrounding neighbors, he said.

The borough’s local option zone ordinance provides property owners in rural districts an opportunity to petition the assembly for greater restrictions on land use than otherwise provided under the borough code.

Travis Penrod submitted two petitions to the borough using a local option zoning district to change the zoning from rural to a single-family residence. Penrod needed to collect signatures from 75 percent from the 72 parcels in the area. Owners of 55 parcels signed the petition.

“It is ridiculous,” Penrod said. “The amount of effort we have put in to follow their rules and jump through hoops for nothing.”

Sean Cude, is the latest owner of the gravel pit that has been on the property since 1982, said Soldotna attorney Joe Kashi to the assembly. Kashi asked the ordinance be amended to remove three subdivided empty lot properties also owned by Cude.

“That gravel pit helped build Kalifornsky Beach Road,” Kashi said. “Most of the fill comes from the borough and state (and his client intents) to bring it back up to grade level.”

The assembly heard from nine people with three separate interests. Homeowners asked the ordinance to move forward and see the pit filled, the owner of a nearby hayfield would like the zone to stay the same, and Cude is in the process of appealing the borough planning commission’s decision to deny his land use permit.

David Tiedeman, who has lived on Virginia Drive for 10 years, said the gravel pit that sits on million-dollar property in close proximity to the Kenai River and has dug deep enough it has broken through the aquifer and he is worried about pollution to the river.

“We are trying to do this the right way and we don’t want to kick (the ordinance) down the road,” he said. “Let’s just get this done. We don’t like a mining operation in our backyard.”

Two hayfields owned by Mercedes Gibbs and Oliver Amend have notified the assembly the local zoning district ordinance would affect their agricultural interests. Gibbs, who owns a 46-acre property on Virginia Drive, said she has intends to construct a barn for storing of equipment and hay bales. If the zoning ordinance passes she wouldn’t be able to.

Amend wrote a letter to the assembly that read the zoning change “would put him out of business.”

Assembly member Mako Haggerty said he was divided on postponement because he knows how hard the homeowners worked to bring the local option zoning district forward. At the same time what is holding him back is two neighboring hayfields that total 55-acres.

“If we can’t make everybody happy it would be nice to make two people happy,” he said. “Reason I would vote to postpone is to figure out how the hayfield plays into whole thing and see if there is a relief for that.”

Assembly member Brent Johnson said any constraints put on a farmer would be a huge inconvenience.

“Agriculture on the Kenai Peninsula is a tough row to hoe,” he said. “If we make stipulations on people to make it tougher, who knows what will come up if (the farmers) are already near a tipping point.”

A third petition involves rezoning three lots adjacent to the gravel pit to residential. Penrod said none of the petitioners have any issue with the hayfields because the land was a homestead and the farm was there first. Penrod said Gibbs sold some of her property to Cude and he is concerned about her intentions if she would sell more property that could also be turned into a gravel pit.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance at its Nov. 10 meeting and recommended approval of the local option zoning district for the subdivision with the exclusion of three lots adjacent to the gravel pit. A permit application for the gravel pit was denied by the planning commission. Kashi appealed to the board of adjustment, which will make a decision in January.

Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander said assembly has to wait 30 days after the board of adjustment decision before the ordinance would be reconsidered.

Assembly member Blaine Gilman moved to postpone the ordinance. Gilman said he was concerned for potential exposure to the borough given that the appeal for the gravel pit hasn’t gone through the board of adjustment process yet.

“I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the hayfield,” he said. “I feel for the property owners who want to get it done. Unfortunately it would put the borough in a position of liability.”

Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander said if the assembly passed the ordinance and then the board of adjustment overturned the planning commission’s decision, it puts the borough in conflict with itself.

“It’s just not good business,” he said.

The assembly voted 7-1 to postpone the ordinance until the first meeting in March. Assembly member Kelly Wolf, who represents the Kalifornsky district, left the meeting prior to the ordinance that was brought up for public hearing due to an illness, said Assembly President Dale Bagley.

Several landowners testified to the assembly their concern for health and safety with the pit near the Kenai River. Penrod called the postponement “ridiculous” because they followed all the rules and applied for the petition that was suggested to them by Wolf.

“We jumped through their hoops,” he said. “The amount of effort we went to and to be rejected is frustrating.”

Jeannine Morse, who has lived on Virginia Drive since 1990, bought the property because it was in a beautiful location along the Kenai River. She said the gravel pit is an eyesore with junk that has been thrown into the pit, from freezers full of rotten fish to septic tanks. “We are sick of it,” Morse said. “We need assurance that our quality of life and safety for the river is not at risk. We hope you would be unanimous in protecting us.”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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