For the first time since 2013, Kenai will begin negotiating a sale of city-owned airport land to private individuals.
At its Wednesday meeting, the Kenai City Council reconsidered and reversed a March 16 vote against a sale of airport-dedicated land. The council approved the sale by a four-to-three vote, with council members Mike Boyle, Bob Molloy, and Terry Bookey opposing.
The lot to be negotiated is at the intersection of the the Kenai Spur Highway and Main Street Loop, and was previously the site of the Golden Eagle Smoke Shop. Ronald and Shirley Smith offered Kenai $170,400 for the property in February 2016. Kenai city manager Rick Koch recommended the sale, citing the fact that the offer was greater than the lot’s assessed value of $142,600.
Rather than selling its 47 airport lots located throughout the city, Kenai in recent years has favored leasing them to private businesses. Business people working on leased land — who in many cases own their buildings but not the land beneath them — have advocated for the city to allow sale of the land into private ownership.
After council members Boyle, Molloy, Bookey and Kenai Mayor Pat Porter voted successfully against the sale on March 16 — a meeting council member Brian Gabriel was absent from — Kenai mayor Pat Porter said she would request a reconsideration of the sale. For a failed measure to be reconsidered, a request has to be made by one who voted on the prevailing side and supported by four of the seven council members. Bookey, Boyle, and Molloy voted against the reconsideration on Wednesday.
One issue was the property’s location within the airport reserve, a legal boundary surrounding the Kenai Airport which requires land inside it to be used for aviation-related purposes. Kenai municipal code states in part that “no city-owned land within the Airport Reserve shall be sold or otherwise conveyed out of City ownership for any purpose, except as provided in a lease.” The council voted to waive this requirement to make the sale possible, ruling that the land is unneeded for a public purpose.
The airport commission has previously recommended moving the reserve boundary away from the highway, freeing six commercially valuable highway-facing lots — including the one considered by Smith — for development. Bookey and Molloy said they would prefer to allow those parcels to be sold, but in this case opposed selling because of the existing reserve boundary.
“I support moving the (airport reserve) line,” Molloy said. “I think we need to have an ordinance that moves the line before we sell property on the other side of the line. ... I think that (sales in exception to city code) should be done only in exceptional circumstances. And this situation — that we have an offer a little bit above the appraisal, isn’t a special circumstance.”
The most recent parcel of airport land to enter private hands was the one directly west of the lot currently in question, which in March 2013 was sold to the Bargain Basement thrift store under a similar exception to the airport reserve rule. Molloy said the Bargain Basement sale wasn’t comparable to the one sought by Smith, because Bargain Basement had originally leased the land from Kenai but its owners had believed they would be able to buy it, creating a legal risk that the city could be sued for misrepresenting the agreement.
Council member Tim Navarre said he would support waiving the code and allowing the sale.
“I want to start presenting an image that the city of Kenai knows how to get around red tape and take action when it’s beneficial to the city, to its residents, and make it clear that we will work with you,” Navarre said. “... I’m not willing to just sit there and say, ‘We’ve got this rule we all agree needs to be changed, but before we do anything we’re going to go change the rules,’ and that might take us a while, there’s procedural rules we have to follow for how fast we can action and do things.”
Navarre said he would support further sales of airport land if the land was announced for public bidding.
Unlike Molloy and Bookey, who said they supported the sale in principal but wouldn’t vote for it in this situation, Boyle said he generally favors offering long-term leases instead of selling land, especially in the airport reserve. In the March 16 discussion, he had requested Smith’s plan for developing the property. Smith responded in a March 30 email, stating he plans to put a drive-through food stand and ice-vending machines on the lot.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.