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Moose Pass land sale nixed

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008

A Moose Pass business owner who stood to gain a substantial amount of property belonging to the Kenai Peninsula Borough surprised assembly members and fellow residents when he encouraged members to vote no on Ordinance 2008-25.

Vern Kingsford, owner of Scenic Mountain Air and Alaska Float Ratings, offered to purchase 2,010 square feet of land belonging to Moose Pass School when borough officials discovered that several of his buildings were encroaching on school property. But after the Moose Pass Planning Commission and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission opposed the ordinance and several residents of Moose Pass spoke out against it, Kingsford told assembly members he would remove the encroaching structures. Kingsford also asked that he be allowed to continue using the lake front for maintaining his float planes and offered an apology to Moose Pass residents.

"I'll voluntarily move the little buildings off school property," he said, adding his thanks to the borough officials, including Chief of Staff Tim Navarre and Dave Spence, director of planning and operations for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, for taking the time to inspect his property. "The best thing for the community would be to vote the ordinance down."

Prior to taking public comment, Assembly Member Milli Martin from the South Peninsula, said Kingsford would have paid about $7,000, fair market value, for the piece of land. All costs in the sale would be made by Kingsford, she said, including the building of a fence. While members of the Moose Pass United Methodist Church, which is also adjacent to Kingsford's property, have complained of trespassing in the past, Martin said the borough wasn't aware of the conflict with the church, adding that it appeared the trespass on school property was unintentional.

Several Moose Pass residents at the meeting thanked Kingsford for his change of heart, but were still skeptical of his intentions and spoke against the ordinance even though it would likely fail. Heather Lindquist, who taught at Moose Pass School for several years and is an elected member of the school site council, encouraged those who came to the meeting to speak to say their piece even if the matter appeared to be moot.

"The borough used 'unintentional trespassing,'" she said. "Since the borough chose to use that language it's our right to refute it."

Lindquist said the sale of a parcel that is about five percent of the school's lake frontage goes against the Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan which favors expansion of the school. A gym expansion has been discussed for years, she said, and it could only take place on the west side, which faces Kingsford's property.

"I don't think we need to take this lightly," she said. "The fact that this probably would have gone through without us knowing anything about it is very sad."

When the assembly took comments from the public on items not on their agenda, Moose Pass resident Erin Knotek brought up the town's relative isolation from local mass media outlets and said the borough needs to be better about making sure residents get necessary information. In order to get a newspaper other than the Anchorage Daily News, she said she must drive 90 miles round trip to get the Peninsula Clarion, and the Seward Phoenix Log isn't delivered anymore.

"We need to come up with something," she said. "We need to have some sort of communication. We are like a black hole on the peninsula and we need to work something out."

When she spoke on the property issue, she passed out a color coded map of the school and the adjacent property. Knotek said she was concerned about the potential hazards fuel trucks traveling to and from Kingsford's fuel tanks via a 14-foot wide driveway between the school's classrooms and playground pose to the children. She suggested using the west side of the school close to the gymnasium and Kingsford's property as a safety corridor for the school to have access to its own fuel tanks. Knotek also suggested eliminating the trees and the fence that's currently there, moving the utilities, putting in a new fence and a new driveway leading directly to the propane tanks.

After the meeting, Knotek expressed her skepticism at the sincerity of Kingsford's testimony and his apology. She said the assembly made the proper decision but the hard part would be to actually get Kingsford to move the encroaching buildings. She also said Kingsford distributed a letter, dated Aug. 17, to about 140 Moose Pass residents encouraging them to e-mail Navarre and Moose Pass assembly representative Ron Long to say that they support the borough's decision to sell the parcel of land.

"With, what is in my opinion, lies and innuendos, ladies from the Methodist Church are soliciting others in Moose Pass to attend the assembly meeting on Tuesday, August 19th at 7 p.m. in Soldotna to speak against what the borough staff has recommended as being the best for everyone," Kingsford writes. "Please do not let the lynch mob mentality exhibited at the infamous Friday night meeting in Moose Pass influence you."

Kingsford declined to comment after the meeting. The assembly voted down the ordinance.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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