Mackey Lakes residents debate zoning proposal

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2000

It does not take much to imagine what Mackey Lakes could be in 20 years, said a resident trying to zone the area for single-family residential use.

"We're so close to Soldotna. Lakes are such a scarce resource. There's been some commercial change," said Mackey Lakes resident Walter Ward. "It could easily end up like Longmere Lake or even like Lake Spenard."

Longmere, just east of Soldotna, has seen conflicts between speed boats, floatplanes and proponents of quiet lakeside living. Ward said Lake Spenard, a popular Anchorage floatplane base, has turned from a residential area to a commercial one.

"I don't think we'll see that here in the near future, but that's the trend," he said. "Something like Longmere, where you have conflicting mixed uses, is a good possibility."

Ward has until Aug. 7 to collect enough signatures to put his zoning proposal before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. He said his original idea was to zone 24 lots on the north end of East Mackey Lake. He has circulated petitions farther, though, in hopes of zoning all around East Mackey Lake and on the isthmus between East and West Mackey lakes.

"The idea was to start with something achievable and continue all the way around the lakes," he said. "I'm not going to get all the way around the lakes, it looks like, because there has been some resistance."

The single-family residential "R-1" zone would allow single-family homes, parks, playgrounds, schools, community centers and churches. Home occupations such as beauty parlors, child care, home crafts and music lessons also would be allowed.

The R-1 zone would allow no more than four dogs to be kept on one lot. It would mandate building setbacks and height restrictions and forested road-side buffers. Bed-and-breakfasts, air taxi services, apartment buildings and free-standing businesses would be banned.

Nonconforming structures and uses in existence when the zone was passed could continue but could not expand in ways that increase the nonconformity. If a nonconforming use was discontinued for more than a year, its grandfather rights would end. Likewise, nonconforming structure more than 50 percent destroyed could not be rebuilt.

"I'm very strongly against it," said Katherine Brooks, who lives in the Mackey Lakes area. "Everyone here is, not just because of the R-1 zone, but because it creates another layer of bureaucracy."

Brooks said she keeps one dog of her own and four belonging to relatives and friends -- too many for the R-1 zone. She said the requirement for a forested buffer would prevent her from landscaping to the road.

Meanwhile, she is building a garage with space for an attic apartment. When she retires, she said, she plans to live there and lease her house. Because the apartment is not finished, she fears it would not be grandfathered.

"We're not against some restrictions, but we're against so many restrictions," she said.

Bill Green, who lives on West Mackey Lake, favored R-1 zoning.

"I have a pretty sizable investment in my residence," he said. "I don't want to see the value of that destroyed. All it takes is a dog lot across the street or a junkyard or some sort of activity that's not compatible with a residential neighborhood. People say that can't happen, but it does happen. I can take you to places on the Kenai Peninsula where it has happened."

He said some types of commercial development could degrade his quality of life.

"One way to prevent that is by zoning," he said.

Bonnie Nichols, who lives by East Mackey Lake, also supported zoning.

"Any attempt to keep it more residential and less commercial will probably be environmentally better for the lake," she said.

Mackey Lakes residents have been fortunate that most landowners have been responsible, she said, but commercial development could hurt the lake.

"For example, if people did a whole bunch of bed and breakfasts here, this lake couldn't support it, unless they pumped their septic systems. We haven't had big commercial operations here, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen," she said.

Zoning opponent Alvin Pierce, who runs a welding shop and engraving business from his East Mackey Lake home, said those uses would be grandfathered.

"But to be grandfathered, I'd have to fill out paperwork saying what I'm doing, and I couldn't expand," he said. "We don't need any more regulations. Right now, we have a very good neighborhood. If we have a problem, we can work it out among ourselves. We don't need some borough person to tell us what to do."

Some say zoning would keep out dog lots and junkyards, he said.

"As far as I'm concerned, the dog lots and that sort of thing, anyone with common sense is going to see it's not the type of place for that," he said.

If someone did open a junkyard and the neighbors could not talk sense into him, perhaps they would buy him out, he said.

Pierce, who flies, said he does not expect a big influx of air taxies. East Mackey Lake is too small for big planes, he said. Talon Air already operates from West Mackey Lake. He questioned whether the market would support another carrier.

Ward declined to say how many signatures he has collected.

"I will say it looks like we'll achieve a 75-lot district, which is about three times where I originally started," he said. "I'm disappointed that it doesn't look like we'll make it clear around the lake."

However, he said, it may be possible to do more after the critics see that zoning is not the threat they feared.

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