A newly created zone in the city of Kenai is designed to bridge the gap between the city's residential and commercial areas.
The Kenai City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday evening authorizing the creation of a limited commercial zone within the city. The zone will allow the creation of areas that will consist of small businesses and mixed residential buildings. There are currently no such zones in the city, but passage of the ordinance allows areas of town to be rezoned for such uses.
Businesses within limited commercial zones would be subject to a specific set of guidelines that include a building footprint of no more than 3,000 square feet, submitting landscaping plans to the city, including buffer zones between residential and commercial areas, and erecting signs no more than 10 feet tall.
Council members said they believe the creation of the zone will allow for better land uses in areas where residential and commercial uses are in close proximity to one another.
"A limited commercial zone is a transitional zone primarily designed for neighborhoods in transition," council member Rick Ross said.
The idea of creating the zone came about last year, when small business owners Nate and Gina Kiel came before the council asking that a strip of land known as Lawton Acres be opened to business development. The land is at the eastern edge of the city's business district along the Kenai Spur Highway. Currently, the land serves as a strip of undeveloped land between the highway and a residential neighborhood.
However, the issue of whether to develop Lawton Acres is actually separate from the zoning issue taken up Wednesday, because the ordinance passed Wednesday does not specifically rezone any areas.
"At this point it's whether or not it's something we want to have on our books in Kenai," Kenai Mayor Pat Porter pointed out.
Still, the Kiels said they believe Lawton Acres would be a perfect area for a limited commercial zone and hope to build a beauty salon on the property. They also live in the Lawton neighborhood and said they believe the zone would make a nice addition to the area.
"I think it's in the best interest of our city to establish a limited commercial zone," Nate Kiel said, noting the zone could provide "a buffer between residential and commercial zones."
Another Lawton resident, Roy Wells, however, cautioned the city to move slowly when it comes to zoning areas that could impact residential areas.
"I hope we tread really carefully with this," Wells said.
He voiced a concern that likely will be a major issue if and when the council eventually decides to take up the Lawton Acres debate. With Kenai's sprawling business district already stretched thin along the Spur Highway corridor, Wells said it might be better to look at ways to consolidate its commercial areas.
"I would rather have it concentrated in an area where we don't spread it out too far," Wells said.
Ultimately, the council decided that limited commercial uses in areas near residential neighborhoods may be a good idea in certain areas and passed the ordinance unanimously.
Now that the ordinance is on the books, city attorney Cary Graves said the council or the planning and zoning commission can decide if there are existing areas in town that need to be rezoned.
"The next process would be to identify real estate to put into the zone," Graves said.
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