In planning and zoning matters, the city of Kenai, like other municipalities, offers its residents an avenue to appeal decisions made regarding their homes, property and neighborhoods. Residents have been taking advantage of that avenue more frequently of late.
The city's Planning and Zoning Commission routinely makes decisions that affect residential areas. It evaluates applications and decides, based on planning and zoning codes and regulations, whether to approve or deny requests. Those decisions can be appealed by anyone affected by them.
When a decision is appealed, the city council meets as a board of adjustment to hear both sides of the case and make its own decision about it. In the last three months, the city has held two board of adjustment hearings. In its Wednesday meeting, the council scheduled two more hearings. This is an unusually high amount compared to past years.
"(The appeals) seem to be getting a little more frequent," said City Attorney Carey Graves. "I think people have been getting more into planning and zoning decisions and the city's growing."
There are several possible reasons for the increase of appeals.
One reason could be that it has simply been a busy year for the Planning and Zoning Commission. The summer is generally a busy time for the commission, since it's building season, but this year overall has been busy for the commission, said Marilyn Kebschull, city planner.
But that doesn't necessarily explain the higher number of appeals, since the commission has had busy years in the past, Kebschull said.
It is fairly easy to appeal a planning and zoning decision, which could also contribute to the increased number of appeals. Anyone affected by a decision -- whether it's a next door neighbor or someone who lives down the street -- can appeal it by submitting a letter to the city clerk. There is no fee to submit an appeal and the appellant is not required to justify their appeal by pointing to any section of the planning and zoning code they think is being violated by the decision.
Since more people are taking advantage of the option to appeal, the council decided in its Wednesday meeting to make the procedure more accessible for appellants.
Council member Duane Bannock suggested the city attorney write an explanation of what steps are required to appeal a decision. This would allow appellants to complete the procedure without needing assistance from the city clerk's office or anyone else. The explanation will be a short, one-page summary of the appeals procedure written in easy to follow terms.
"It's so the lay person will have kind of a crib sheet to make that process more user-friendly to people," Graves said.
The explanation will be available soon from the city clerk and on the city's Web site.
In other action Wednesday, the council:
n Unanimously passed an ordinance amending the Recreation Zone to allow lodges and bunkhouses as principal permitted uses, to allow retail businesses as a secondary use when they are used in conjunction with the primary use (like a coffee shop or gift store in a permitted business), to change the minimum lot requirements and to not allow four or more family dwellings. This amendment changes the rules and characteristics of the zone. It does not mean there will be any immediate changes to existing areas zoned recreational.
n Set a public hearing date to discusses the proposed paving project of Schooner Circle for Sept. 18.
n Declared a list of equipment, supplies and materials surplus or obsolete. The equipment and supplies will be included in the city's auction, planned for Sept. 14.
n Unanimously approved a resolution transferring $6,000 to the Wellhouse No. 4 Capital Project Fund for geophysical services.
n Set two board of adjustment hearing dates for Aug. 21. One is an appeal of a Planning and Zoning Commission denial of an application for a variance dealing with setback requirements and lot coverage submitted by F. DeWayne Craig. The other is an appeal of a Planning and Zoning Commission approval for an encroachment permit for side setbacks submitted by Ona Wilbert.
n Discussed suggested changes to the city logo. The council decided not to accept the proposed changes.
n Discussed airport advertising. The council voted to introduce an ordinance in the next meeting which would transfer $3,000 from the airport special revenue fund into the airport's advertising fund. The money would cover the cost of one advertisement the airport places in an area publication that promotes the airport and the city. This way the airport commission could use its full advertisement budget on other advertisements, instead of spending nearly $3,000 on this single ad.
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