Council tackles commercial zone

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2005

Kenai City Council members can be forgiven for "zoning out" at their next meeting.

A proposal to create a new "limited commercial" zone in the city's code is likely to generate some debate. At issue is whether the city should allow expansion of its business district eastward along the Kenai Spur Highway along a strip of land known as Lawton Acres.

The idea to create the new zone came about last year, when a potential business owner asked the city to open up the land to development. Lawton Acres is a strip of land that extends east of Walker Lane along the Spur, which was set aside in 1984 as a conservation zone. It has sat vacant since then, even as development has taken place on the other side of the highway.

The new zone would allow for development of smaller retail-type stores. Creation of the zone was passed by the city's planning and zoning commission, and the ordinance was introduced at the Feb. 16 council meeting.

Although Kenai might need new business, some council members appear reluctant to allow the ordinance to go forward.

At the Feb. 16 meeting, council members rejected a plan by City Manager Linda Snow to move forward with preliminary platting work on the land, arguing the new zone needs to first be approved before the city gets ahead of itself parceling up the land.

"I think we should slow down the process," council member Blaine Gilman said.

Council members said the idea of allowing development in the area could be fraught with challenges. The area borders an existing residential area along Lawton Drive, which could mean neighborhood residents won't want new development. In addition, council members have in the past wondered if allowing development to the east might add to the city's growing sprawl problem.

"This could be something that goes beyond one public hearing," council member Rick Ross said.

If the new zone is approved, platting could begin and the city would start the process of selling land to prospective business owners. However, before that happens, council members said they'd like to get significant input from the public as to the merits of the idea.

Council member Joe Moore also said he'd like the public to see visual representation of what the new zone might look like.

"It's difficult to just visualize," Moore said.

The council will take up the issue of creating the limited commercial zone at 7 p.m. Wednesday at city hall.

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