New road standards back up for debate

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is preparing to try again to address deficiencies in the municipal road code, with specific attention to requiring that new subdivision roads be built to borough maintenance standards before final plats are approved.

Two roads ordinances introduced in March and debated for more than a month eventually were tabled when those measures raised concerns among land developers, surveyors and construction contractors.

Among those concerns were that stiffer regulations could drive up costs and force small developers and construction firms out of business.

Since then, the borough Planning Commission and Road Service Area Board have been working to incorporate public comments and suggestions into new ordinance language.

Ordinance 2007-33, to be introduced at Tuesday's assembly meeting and set for public hearings in September and October, would replace one of the two tabled ordinances, 2007-11.

In a joint memo to the assembly, Borough Mayor John Williams and Assemblywoman Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, said additional amendments specifically regarding bonding alternatives were likely, and that rather than removing 2007-11 from the table, it was decided to introduce 2007-33 as a substitute.

Martin said Wednesday that there was a concerted effort to find acceptable compromise language. She said she "was pleased" with the new language noting that it had a lot of public input.

Williams said that after the lengthy discussions surrounding the earlier version, the borough decided to "slow things down," and work on addressing the public concerns. Whether the new version accomplishes that "remains to be seen," he said.

Introduction of 2007-33 would allow the assembly to allow the earlier version (2007-11) to "die on the vine" after the Oct. 9 hearing, Williams said.

The new ordinance would require developers to get Road Service Area certification that dedicated roads within a plat were built to applicable standards before plat approval. Once accepted, the roads would be eligible for borough maintenance.

There are also provisions, however, under which a developer could post an improvement surety bond and defer construction to standards for a set period of time, or, under some circumstances, have construction standards waived altogether.

If a developer failed to meet deferred deadlines, the borough could use the surety bond, which would equal 120 percent of the estimated construction cost, to build the improvements. If requirements were met, the surety bond would be returned to the developer.

Waiver provisions would allow the RSA board to waive road requirements after considering several factors, including topography, location, width of right-of-way, current or projected traffic volumes or other unique conditions or surrounding development. Other considerations include whether or not the lack of road construction would have a harmful effect on access, or whether a borough interest in granting a waiver outweighed the need to certify the road for maintenance.

The burden would be on a waiver applicant to demonstrate to the RSA that granting a waiver would not undermine the borough's road standards objectives.

The proposed language makes it clear that a waiver would not be granted merely because a developer faced an economic inconvenience or hardship.

Another provision attempts to address a major concern expressed by developers with a provision of the earlier version namely a requirement that they build a borough-standard connector road between a new subdivision and a state- or borough-maintained road that was within 660 feet (one-eighth mile). The new version proposes to halve that distance to 330 feet, thus cutting potential cost.

Martin said the shorter distance should be more acceptable, though still be problematic on the lower peninsula where topography can drive up the cost of road building significantly.

Asked what would be required of a developer if two or more borders of a new subdivision were within the 330 feet, Williams said the Planning Commission would have to look at the situation and decide if one connector were sufficient.

"It may be that a subdivision is simply too large for just one, but that would be up to planning," he said.

Other parts of Ordinance 2007-33 provide for an appeals process, add several new definitions of terms to the code, amend language regarding expiration of and extensions to preliminary plats, cover criteria for phased projects, and provide for exemptions.

If introduced as expected Tuesday, the ordinance would get public hearings at the Sept. 18 and Oct. 9 assembly meetings.

"This has been in the mill a long time," Williams said. "The only problem with these extensive ordinances is that when they get into public hearings further input often comes to the surface. If necessary, this ordinance may have to undergo some modification."

Williams credited Assemblyman Gary Knopp, of Kalifornsky, with much of the work compiling the new ordinance language.

The efforts this year to revise maintenance standards are not the first attempted by the assembly. Martin sponsored a measure adopted in 2002 revising road maintenance standards, but former borough mayor Dale Bagley vetoed that ordinance.

Hal Spence can be reached at

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