Kenai residents impacted by a recent vote to rezone 22 acres along the Kenai Spur Highway to Limited Commercial are now gathering signatures in hopes of getting help from the electorate to reverse the decision.
In order to get the issue on the October ballot, the neighborhood residents need to gather 395 signatures from registered Kenai voters for a referendum before May 1.
"We're approximately halfway there," said resident Colleen Ward on Friday. "I anticipate we will be able to meet that."
The residents are busy getting their message out by word-of-mouth, by going door-to-door, and by having people stop by at Patria Falkenberg's house displaying large, hot pink signs at the corner of McCollum Avenue and the Kenai Spur Highway.
The Kenai City Council on April 1 decided to allow limited commercial development along the Spur Highway corridor across from the high school by changing 14 parcels from Rural Residential 1 and Conservation to Limited Commercial.
"Unfortunately the rezone ordinance ... blatantly flies in the face of the Kenai Comprehensive Plan, which, according to Alaska statute is supposed to be the city's guiding policy document for decision making," Ward said.
She and other residents of the MAPS Subdivision, named for streets bordering the neighborhood -- Magic Avenue, Aliak Drive, Princess Street and the Spur Highway -- have argued that changing the parcels along the highway to Limited Commercial negatively alters the quiet, low-density complexion of their community.
Proponents have said, for the city to continue to grow, property along the highway corridor is needed for commercial development.
"If either the council or the Planning and Zoning Commission believe the Comprehensive Plan to be outdated, the responsible function of leadership would be to update the plan utilizing broad community input," Ward said. "It is entirely inappropriate for these leaders to unilaterally piecemeal a patchwork zoning schematic for the city.
"Such actions seem to provide the textbook example of what the courts call 'arbitrary' and/or 'capricious' decision making," she said.
The controversy began late last year when Kenai dentist Dr. Todd Wortham applied to have a vacant 2.97-acre parcel across from Kenai Central High School rezoned so he could build a new professional building for his dental practice.
Rather than rezone only one parcel, the city council asked City Manager Rick Koch to compile a more comprehensive list of parcels along the highway corridor to be rezoned to allow for more small-scale commercial development.
The comprehensive list includes 13 parcels west of McCollum Drive zoned Rural Residential 1, and one city-owned parcel zoned Conservation along a creek bordering the new Wal-Mart property.
In supporting the rezone, Councilman Rick Ross described the process the city went through to create the relatively new Limited Commercial zone rather than allowing larger General Commercial development in residential areas along the Kenai Spur Highway.
The Limited Commercial zone allows businesses with buildings no larger than 3,000 square-feet.
Ward said the rezone "fundamentally threatens the very essence of Kenai -- its uniqueness, those things about Kenai that have caused so many of us to intentionally locate here."
She said the area to be rezoned is "a significant hub of residential and educational life intentionally segregated from commercial activity that contributes to the character and distinction of Kenai."
"This highway corridor just east of the commercial center is characterized by residential and educational life -- children go to school, play sports, conduct concerts and plays; families run and walk their pets, ride bikes and roller blade on the walkways; the young and old play tennis and walk the track; club and school teams practice and play hockey games; children and adults alike come from the local area and around the state to orbit through the galaxies at the phenomenal and integral Challenger (Learning) Center (of Alaska)," Ward said. "This hub is a recognizable attribute that helps define the quality of life that attracts families and citizens to Kenai and distinguishes Kenai.
"This hub of residential and educational life is not what is wrong with Kenai, it is what is right with Kenai.
"It is not broke, so don't try to fix it," Ward said.
If people are unable to get to Falkenberg's house to sign the petition, they may call Falkenberg at 394-2646 or Becky Espy at 398-4985 to have a petition brought to them, Ward said.
In going door-to-door to obtain signatures, she said the MAPS residents are finding "not only are others willing, but they are eager to sign."
After the council voted to approve the rezone, City Attorney Cary Graves said it would go into effect in 30 days, or May 1.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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