Land-use plan meant to make Kenai better for walkers

In the safe zone

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2006

With the goal of having a pedestrian-friendly central city, Kenai officials are considering a new land-use zone, which would permit residences to be mixed in with commercial businesses in the heart of town.

An ordinance creating the Central Mixed Use zone was introduced at the Kenai City Council meeting Wednesday and was set for a public hearing at the next meeting, Sept. 6.

The change to the city code also contains revisions to the city’s sign law, particularly restricting the size and height of freestanding signs in front of businesses.

If adopted, the new zone would permit retail shopping, personal and professional services, entertainment and restaurants to be mixed with single-family and multiple-family dwellings as well as mobile home parks and planned unit residential developments.

The central zone encompasses Kenai’s existing commercial areas along the Kenai Spur Highway, Main Street Loop, Willow Street and Trading Bay, but does not include Old Town, according to City Manager Rick Koch.

On the commercial side, the new zone would allow car dealerships and gas stations, banks, retail shops, hotels and motels, restaurants, theaters, professional offices and some other businesses.

Gas manufacture and storage, warehouses, farming, cemeteries and natural resource extraction operations would not be allowed in the new central zone.

Major changes in the city’s sign code restrict the size of freestanding signs to 64 square feet and prohibit signs higher than 12 feet above the ground.

Existing signs that exceed the new limits would be grandfathered in under the new code, according to Marilyn Kebschull, Kenai city planner.

Some larger signs that already exist within the mixed use zone are the Safeway sign, which is 154 square feet and stands 36 feet high; the National Bank of Alaska sign, which is 176 square feet and is 32 feet high; and the Holiday gas station sign, which is 184 square feet in area.

In a memo to the city manager, Kebschull said she, the city attorney and the city building official were concerned about the size limits because earlier amendments to the sign code found it to be too restrictive.

“The sign code still allows for variances,” she said.

Koch said the city administration, however, does not want “variances to become the norm.”

If the limit is set at 64 square feet, approximately 50 businesses in Kenai would have nonconforming signs.

Signs specifically prohibited under the proposed ordinance include audio signs, beacon signs, rotating signs and signs that flash or have intermittent illumination.

Signs containing profane or indecent words or illustrations are also banned.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved adding the Central Mixed Use zone in July.

If adopted in September, the code would be effective Oct. 6.

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