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Kenai comprehensive plan needs a comprehensive look

Posted: October 24, 2012 - 1:27pm  |  Updated: October 25, 2012 - 7:25am

I was recently reading through the new city comprehensive plan and found a couple of goals that seem to reflect majority public sentiment that I’ve heard expressed in numerous public forums over the past few years: A. “develop a downtown plan ... and provide design guidance to support quality commercial and institutional development in this area”; and B. “Identify key focus areas to concentrate commercial/retail activity to create commercial synergy” (from page 24). From page 59, “Distinct centralized nodes of commercial activity are more efficient from a land use perspective and are more successful from a business perspective.”

Unfortunately, for myself and other like-minded residents of Kenai, these quotes are from the Soldotna Comprehensive Plan. I was looking at it because I believe the recently introduced Kenai Comprehensive Plan review draft and the process leading to it are seriously flawed. Kenai’s review draft lacks connectivity to the past plan. Among other things, there is no mention of a vibrant City-Center or Millenium Square development in the goals and objectives even though that desire was cleary expressed previously and at the April public information gathering (visioning) session for the new plan.

The biggest disconnect occurs in the proposed future land use section. The disconnect is from public forum comments and even from a city-wide ballot proposition in 2009. This disconnect occurs even within the pages of the draft review itself. On page 48 the draft states that an additional 285 acres will be needed to accommodate future (land) uses. The chart next to that statement lists 223 of those future need acres to be residential, the rest being a mix of commercial (27 acres), industrial (29 acres), and mix-use (6 acres).

If you look at the future land use proposal on page 52 the opposite emerges. The industrial land use classification (mostly airport associated land) moves closer to Woodland subdivision, and is taken right into the MAPS subdivision (full disclosure: right across the street from my front yard!) even though on page 51 a description of the industrial classification says, “may adversely affect neighboring properties.”

People along Lawton and Walker streets have fought to maintain a buffer between themselves and commercial activity. Yet the proposal puts a commercial zone right across the street from residential properties.

Then there is the expansion of the mixed-use classification all along the Spur Highway (that is not already commercial), all along Beaver Loop Road, and on down Anglers Acres (off Beaver Loop). Mixed-use is essentially commercial (definition page 51) as the only residential use allowed is multi-family. Under this proposal any single family residence becomes a “non-conforming” use which restricts what the property owner can do with said property.

I don’t really have the time and space to review all the flaws in Chapter 6 (page 70) dealing with goals, objectives, and strategies, however I will mention one: buried on page 81 and listed as a medium priority, “Review siting for oil and gas developments to determine whether these developments should be allowed in residential neighborhoods.”

Seriously?! This leads to the subject of a flawed process in the development of this draft plan. Input for the new comprehensive plan (prior to the October 12 public introduction of this draft) consisted of one public visioning forum in April where all interested parties were invited. After that forum the input outreach consisted of meetings with special interest groups most often commerce related and unrelated to the city residentially. Examples: Kenai Peninsula Realtors Association, Kenai chapter of the Alliance (oil and gas), Kenai Rotary Club,and the Mental Health Land Trust (same organization which on the record threatened to sue the city if they didn’t get their way on a zoning issue in Kenai). There was also an online survey about city services.

There have been other structural barriers which discourage commenting on the draft review. I strongly encourage residents to get involved. Call me at 283-9382 for futher information (civil conversation only please). This is a critical document and as such it should accurately reflect public opinion.

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