What do commercial cannabis establishments and gravel pits have in common?
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, both are enterprises over which borough government has limited oversight — and little in the way of restrictions as to where they may be located.
They are also enterprises over which, as residential subdivisions outside of city limits continue to expand, borough residents are seeking greater restrictions.
With regard to marijuana businesses, the borough does have some restrictions governing, for example, setbacks from churches or schools. Going forward, neighborhoods will be able to establish local option zoning districts, but generally speaking, if a potential business owner meets the requirements, there isn’t much in the way of limitations as to where that business can be established.
The same is true of gravel pits in the borough. A conditional use permit is required to operate a gravel pit, and there are requirements for the operator to meet to mitigate some of the impacts of a gravel operation. But if conditions are met, borough government doesn’t have much grounds to deny a permit.
However, neighbors of such enterprises continue to seek ways to restrict commercial activities in their neighborhoods. Though some would argue the opposite, what they’re seeking is zoning.
In the October municipal election, for example, a ballot proposition asked voters to prohibit commercial marijuana establishments across the borough. While much of the debate was focused on pro- or anti-marijuana, the measure had more to do with zoning — restricting what types of activities can be undertaken in a given location.
Likewise, public outcry when a new gravel pit is proposed is nothing new. At last week’s borough meeting, Nikiski residents expressed concern for a gravel pit bordering their neighborhood. The borough administration is working on revisions to its code for gravel pits, and local option zones remain an option in some instances.
However, if the borough is looking at a future in which more and more local option zones are established, perhaps it’s time to consider that dreaded “Z” word on a more comprehensive basis. Many borough residents who live outside of city limits cite the lack of restrictions on what they can do with their property as a reason to do so, and any talk of zoning is quick to result in raised hackles. Indeed, restrictions on land use is one of the main arguments for those opposed to Soldotna’s potential plans for annexation.
But while zoning can be restrictive, it can also serve to protect potential land uses, something that may be more effectively done with a comprehensive plan rather then scattered local option zones.
The borough is likely a long way from a discussion on zoning, but residential neighborhoods grow, conversations and controversies over land use decisions will increase. It might not happen today, but a more serious discussion is certainly going to happen down the road.