Green grass or green cash?

Kenai to decide whether to allow development of Lawton Acres

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kenai residents will soon have a chance to weigh in on whether to allow limited commercial development on a prime piece of real estate just east of the city's main business district.

The Kenai City Council on Wednesday agreed to allow the city's planning and zoning commission to address the issue of rezoning the strip of city-owned land, known as Lawton Acres. The land sits between the Kenai Spur Highway to the north and Lawton Drive to the south. It currently is zoned for conservation purposes, meaning it must be left untouched.

A hearing on the issue will be held at the commission's June 8 meeting.

However, Kenai business owners — and Lawton-area residents — Nate and Gina Keil have been eying the property for some time as a potential location for new business development and lobbied the council earlier this year to create a new "limited commercial" zone that they believe would fit well in the area.

Nate Keil told the council he believes the planning and zoning commission is the right place to begin talking about rezoning the strip of land.

The issue of rezoning the land likely is to be a touchy one with Kenai residents as well as council members. Opponents have pointed out that Kenai has a number of vacant buildings in the town's main business area, and some neighbors have voiced concern that commercial development could detract from the neighborhood.

Council members and the public were split on the issue Wednesday, with no clear consensus coming forward.

"I'd like to see this little green corridor kept," council member Jim Butler said.

Old Town Kenai resident Bob Peters agreed and told the council he believes the city should hold onto its land in case it needs to expand in the future.

"There's no need for this particular council to take it upon themselves to sell all this land," Peters said.

Council member Blaine Gilman, however, said he would support such a rezoning.

Since the land belongs to the city, it has the final say over whether to rezone it. However, council members said holding public hearings at the commission level would be the right way to handle the situation.

"Let (planning and zoning) take public testimony on it and see if at this point this is where we'd like to see our city go," council member Rick Ross said.

Nate Keil said he and his wife would be willing to listen to what the public has to say and abide by whatever decisions are made.

"If the public is in support, than great," he said. "If not, we'll find it out in that venue."

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