Kenai's east side may open to development

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

The future of Kenai's business community could lie to the east.

Developing an unoccupied section of the city's main drag took a small step toward reality Wednesday, when the Kenai City Council recommended the city administration come up with a preliminary assessment for rezoning a section of land on the east end of the city's main business district.

The plan, which the council discussed at length Wednesday evening, would change zoning rules so commercial businesses could build on the south side of the Spur Highway directly east of Walker Lane. Currently, that section of land is undeveloped and zoned for conservation purposes.

But at least one Kenai resident would like to look into changing that. At Wednesday's meeting, Nate Kiel said he'd be interested in purchasing some of the property for business purposes, and wondered if it might be in the city's best interest to begin looking into rezoning the land.

Kiel told the council he and his wife would like to build on the east side of town, but there currently is very little commercial space available.

"There's just not much out there on this side of town," said Kiel, who also lives near the area in question, which is known as Lawton Acres.

Kiel said it appears the city's main business district is growing toward that section of town, and he'd like to be where the action is.

Council members seemed to agree that the time has come to look into opening up the real estate. Council members Linda Swarner and Pat Porter said they'd like to see Lawton Acres opened up to development.

"I think it's important to open up this piece of property," Porter said.

Despite the fact that she's come out opposed to rezoning the land in the past, Swarner said she would be favorable to the idea.

"I guess I've had a change of heart," she said.

Other council members were less enthusiastic about their support, but said they would like to bring the issue up to see what the public thinks.

"I'm certainly willing to throw it on the table," said council member Joe Moore.

The rezoning plan is far from a done deal. The council only recommended the administration come up with a preliminary assessment to determine if the land is even suitable for development. Because any commercial property would likely need a frontage road for access off the highway, the city will need to determine if the property is large enough to build such a road. With access only from Lawton Drive south of the property, it's unlikely council members, neighborhood residents or developers would be anxious to see the property rezoned.

"I don't want access off Lawton," council member Rick Ross said.

Kiel said he'd also be less inclined to develop the property if it was only accessible from Lawton.

"I don't think that would interest us," he said.

One person who voiced strong opposition to the rezoning idea was Mayor John Williams. Williams said when the land was set aside for conservation in 1984, he supported the plan, and continues to think the land should remain undeveloped.

"The same reasons it was put aside as a conservation zone still exist today," Williams said.

Williams said he's fine with the council exploring the idea of rezoning the land, but said it'll take a lot of convincing to make him believe the land should be put to commercial use.

The council will again take up the issue at its May 5 meeting after city staff prepares the preliminary assessment of the plan. At that time, the council could decide to drop the issue or send it to the Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Tabled until May 5 a resolution that would require any city employee participating in the Public Employee's Retirement System (PERS) opt-out program to retire within five years of their rehire date with the city.

Under the current program, city employees eligible for retirement can "opt-out" of the PERS system and return to work with the city, which saves the city money in retirement costs. However, if the resolution passes, any employees who decide to participate in the program would have to retire within five years of returning to work.

Transferred $15,000 in the city's general fund for the purchase of a new telephone system in the city's public safety building to replace the old system, which recently crashed.

Approved a $50,000 contract to Procomm Alaska to spend a $45,000 grant for the purchase of a mobile vehicle repeater system for city public safety vehicles. The city will spend $5,000 of its funds for the project, which will allow emergency and public safety vehicles to better communicate with one another when working in remote sections of town.

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