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Kenai faces growth spurt

City will decide whether to open land to building

Posted: Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Kenai, the "village with a past, city with a future," may look more like a city after discussing the rezoning of Lawton Acres near Kenai Central High School for limited commercial development.

Lawton Acres, bordering the Kenai Spur Highway to the north and Lawton Drive to the south, is designated a conservation area in the city's comprehensive plan. The plan describes conservation sections as primary use for open space, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, drainage ways, floodplain and wetlands.

The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission will hear testimony Wednesday with regard to changing the conservation designation for that area, creating a limited commercial zone for small businesses.

Prospective developers Gina and Nate Keil plan to relocate their Kenai salon to a building designed specifically for a salon's needs. In the 20 years of searching for an existing building for their business, they have not found anything that's quite right. They're looking to build it.

The Keils said the Lawton land parcel is prime for development.

"The town is growing that way. It you want to invest, you want it to be where the other businesses are going to be," Gina Keil said.

There are clauses in the limited commercial zone documents which include provisos on landscaping, privacy buffers and certain types of businesses — something the Keils personally like.

"It's not like our goal is to go and knock down a bunch of trees or anything," Keil said.

The idea has been met with some negativity, due to it being an untouched piece of land.

Kenai council member Cliff Massie said he has not spoken to anyone who is in favor of rezoning the area.

"Everyone says to leave it as it is, and some people have said, 'Gee whiz, it's the only place you can drive into town and see trees in the city,'" Massie said.

However, Keil said she gets the feeling most people are supportive of the idea.

"I've been to several planning and zoning meetings and only heard one sort of negative opinion and one fairly strong negative opinion," she said. "My neighbors say it's awesome. I was real happy about that."

She said if there was overwhelming negative sentiment, it might change things.

"We're not out to make any enemies," she said. "We ask ourselves if we had not won the bid, would we still support the zoning change? Yes."

Keil encourages anybody interested in the issue to attend the meeting.

"Honestly, there are people I know who were against this years ago and support it now, and some who are against it who have been misinformed about it. The city put a lot of work into this."

Marilyn Kebschull, Kenai city planner, said the new zoning designation will align with the city's long-range plan, and as the city changes, so do the regulations. The city code allows zoning amendments as people purchase and develop land.

"The plan is new enough that we're all learning and changing as we go," Kebschull said. "The limited commercial zoning is all new — it allows people to develop small businesses for residential areas, it also limits a building size and requires separation and a buffer zone."

The hearing on the issue is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the city council chambers in Kenai City Hall.



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