By a margin of just one vote, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly adopted controversial new road standards for borough subdivisions that will make it more expensive for developers to subdivide and prospective property owners to buy land.
But those negatives will be outweighed in the long run, said supporters, by ensuring subdivision residents of quality roads eligible for borough maintenance and relieving them of the expense of maintaining and upgrading those roads at a much greater cost later on.
The new road standards ordinance has gone through extensive public hearings, debate and revisions since first being introduced by Diamond Ridge-Seldovia assembly member Milli Martin in December of last year. It has had seven public hearings at the assembly level alone, plus numerous hearings before the Kenai Peninsula Planning Commission and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area Board.
The planning commission voted unanimously to oppose the new standards. The road board urged their adoption. Tuesday night, the assembly voted 5-4 to pass the ordinance. Martin, as well as assembly members Tim Navarre of Kenai, Ron Long of Seward, Chris Moss of Homer and Pete Sprague of Soldotna voted with the majority. Grace Merkes of Sterling, Betty Glick of Kenai South, Paul Fischer of Tustumena and Gary Superman of Nikiski voted no.
Merkes immediately called for reconsideration at the Aug. 20 assembly meeting.
The ordinance requires that new subdivision roads be built to borough maintenance standards prior to final plat approval.
"I know that many folks have interpreted the purpose of this ordinance as to solving existing roads problems," she said. "This ordinance will not address that, nor was it intended to. It is intended to endeavor to halt construction of roads not to standards."
She said it was intended to serve the growing number of residents and home buyers to ensure the expectations of property purchasers, to provide safety and to assist maintenance.
"That's it in a nutshell," she said.
Under the new rules, borough standard roads must be constructed where the outer boundaries of a new subdivision abut a borough- or state-maintained road, or where borough or state maintenance terminates at a subdivided lot, parcel or tract abutting the proposed subdivision and the new subdivision includes at least five lots.
Subdividers would not be required to construct internal subdivision roads to borough standards where those roads are built solely to provide access to parcels adjoining the new subdivision. The rules also do not apply where a subdivision creates only two lots from a parent parcel at least 40 acres in size and one of the lots created is no more than an acre in size or the minimum size necessary to support an on-site well or septic system.
The new ordinance also addresses roads built to access new subdivisions. It ensures that subdivisions of at least five lots that are within 330 feet of a maintained state or borough road will have access roads built to borough standards.
Other rules also apply. For instance, subdividers are to apply for certification for maintenance with the road service area prior to final plat approval.
Provisions are made for phased subdivision development but require the first phase to be the one connected to maintained roads by an access built to borough standards.
There also are provisions for so-called remote parcel subdivisions. Subdivisions more than 7.5 miles from where borough or state maintenance ends on a borough or state road will not be subject to the new road standards requirements.
Certain other exemptions from the strict construction standards may be granted by the road service board for unusual circumstances, but those exceptions must be granted before final plat approval.
Primarily, though, the law dictates that new subdivisions meeting the necessary criteria must provide residents with quality roads that can be added to the borough road maintenance list.
"It is logical to anticipate that new property purchasers would expect nothing less," Martin said.
The roads board voted for the ordinance twice, but the planning commission unanimously opposed the measure. Martin had delayed final action on the bill until this week in order to provide an opportunity for the road board and commission to meet and try to iron out differences. They could not, she said, but the discussion helped frame the ordinance's final draft.
Key for her, Martin said, was the number of requests the road board gets from residents in subdivisions with substandard roads.
"These folks now pay the 1.5 mills (service area property tax) yet they receive no maintenance," Martin said. "The letters to the roads board eloquently demonstrate the frustration for those citizens.
"On the other hand, it is obvious the planning commission is concerned with land prices and affordable lots, and that, too, is legitimate," she continued. "What I fear happens is that affordable lots, in the long run, cost far in excess of what a lot of a little more with proper roads would have cost to begin with."
Martin read an e-mail from road board member Ron Wille of Seward, who said people on nonmaintained, nonapproved roads in his area were typically low-income residents who were offered low down payments and easy monthly payments that enabled them to buy property but did provide them with roads built to borough standards.
Residents, who formed an association, had to go door to door seeking donations for snowplowing, he said, while paying taxes that got them no maintenance and forking over the cost of a bookkeeper and an accountant to do end-of-year taxes.
Road board members have said upgrading a substandard road to borough standards can cost two to three times what it would have cost to build it to borough standard in the first place.
In recent years, the road tax mill rate has been increased, in part to generate funds to help bring substandard roads up to borough standards. However, the new law is not written to address that problem.
Speaking in support of the ordinance, Long said it would not "address the sins of the past, but hopefully will keep us from repeating them in the future."
Max Best, planning director, said the commission opposed the ordinance for several reasons, but prime among them was a belief that the borough needed to take care of the roads it has and bring substandard ones up to borough standards before building additional roads. Requiring new subdivisions to build standard roads would put more roads on the maintenance lists.
Glick said that as a former planning commissioner she had a "predisposition to support the planning commission and understand that they probably have some great concerns," she said. Referring to the division between the commission and the road board, Glick said, "What we have here is dueling positions."
Superman said the law would drive up land prices.
"We are forcing people out there to buy a Cadillac when it comes to land," he said.
Moss asked if it wasn't time to adopt the ordinance now, when would that time be?
"We can wait, but it is just putting off the problem," he said.
Merkes said the new law reduces the option available to owners and developers.
"I think that we shouldn't take the opportunity away from a person who owns their own property to subdivide it and to be able to put the kind of roads in that they want," she said. "If they want them maintained, they will put in borough standard roads."
Martin said it is the road board that ends up dealing with road problems. She also said there was "a growing resentment" among residents paying the road mill levy who are not eligible for maintenance.
"Are we going to allow this to continue to proliferate?" she asked. "Because that is exactly what we are doing (by not instituting the new standards)."
Assembly President Tim Navarre supported the ordinance but also noted that the real impacts of the change would be apparent 10 to 20 years down the road, essentially in avoided costs.
Once the 5-4 vote was recorded, Merkes called for reconsideration.
Mayor Dale Bagley said he has not decided whether he would veto the new law should it survive a challenge during reconsideration.
"I have to look at it very closely," he said. "I have not made up my mind."
Bagley acknowledged there are good arguments on both sides. Bagley's aide, Ed Oberts, credited Martin for her efforts over the preceding months to arrive at an ordinance that attempted to address a very real problem.
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