Kenai woman caught on fence

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

Good fences really do make good neighbors, as evidenced by a situation that came before the Kenai City Council on Wednesday. In this case, the lack of a good fence has caused strife between Kenai neighbors and may result in one of the neighbors having to close their business.

Nancy Henricksen of Kenai operates Groomingdales, a dog grooming business, out of her home on Fourth Avenue. Since she lives in a residential neighborhood, she needs a conditional-use permit from the city to run a business from her home.

When she originally applied for the permit from the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission in August 2002, some of her neighbors complained to the city about a dog day-care operation she also ran at the time, where people left their pets in Henricksen's care for a portion of the day. Henricksen let the dogs use her back yard, which was enclosed by a sagging fence made of log poles, two-by-fours and wire fencing. The dogs could see through the fence and barked at people they spotted in the neighborhood.

Henricksen said she would discontinue her dog day-care operation but was denied the conditional-use permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission. In September 2002, she appealed the matter to the city council, which acts as a board of adjustment in such situations. The board decided to award her the permit, on the condition she put up a sight-obscuring fence in her backyard.

Henricksen was given until June 30 to replace her fence with a sight-obscuring one. As the deadline neared, she looked for ways she could get out of having to replace the fence.

"I couldn't afford it," Henrick-sen said. "If I had that kind of money that I was going to invest in my business, I'd move my business (to a commercial location). That would be where I'd spend my money, rather than erect a fence."

Henricksen said it was her troubled financial situation that caused her to operate her business out of her home in the first place. She has owned Groomingdales for seven years and used to run it out of a commercial space on the Kenai Spur Highway, where Summit Cleaners is now.

A divorce left her unable to afford the commercial location, she said.

"It's just a tragic set of circumstances that forced me to operate my business in my home because I can't do both pay my mortgage and pay my rental fee from the income from my business," she said. "I really am very poor. I have less than $3 in my bank account. I'm behind in some of my bills; I really am struggling."

She contacted the city attorney and city planner, asking if there was some way she wouldn't have to put up a new fence. She no longer provides day care for dogs and doesn't let the dogs she grooms out in her back yard.

Since the main reason for requiring a sight-obscuring fence supposedly was to block the sight of her business from her neighbors, she thought she could erect a structure that hid the back door to her garage, where she does the grooming, she said.

But the L-shaped wooden structure she built didn't meet with the city's approval. She did repair her existing fence by placing some new posts and tightening the wiring, she said, but the June 30 deadline came and went without her putting up a new sight-obscuring fence. Hen-ricksen was informed that her only options at that point were to apply to the city to modify her permit to remove the fence condition or stop operating her business. On July 31 she applied to modify the permit, but her application failed in a 3-3 tie vote of the Planning and Zoning Commission, with one member absent.

So Henricksen again appealed to the council and another board of adjustment hearing was held Wednesday. Henricksen attended to make her case for having the fence requirement dropped.

She said she has added tarps to her fence to make it sight-obscuring.

It was pointed out that Henrick-sen was not given any guidelines as to what the sight-obscuring fence should look like or be made of.

"We didn't define what is a sight-obscuring fence," said Kenai Mayor John Williams during the hearing. "Neither did the administration define what is a sight-obscuring fence and the code doesn't define what a sight-obscuring fence is. There's no question this is a sight-obscuring fence."

If she could, Henricksen would rather do away with the tarps.

"Frankly, I'm embarrassed by it and it really does devalue my property and the property of the neighborhood, in my opinion," she said.

If the board of adjustment does not do away with the fence requirement, Henricksen said she will appeal the matter to the state Superior Court, although she would rather it didn't go that far.

"I don't want to," she said. "... I think the city of Kenai and myself would look foolish in front of the Superior Court over such an issue."

The board has 30 days from Wednesday to make a decision.

"I ask you to seriously consider your decision ... as your decision affects my livelihood and ability to make an income," Henricksen said. "Just pretend it was your income, if you would, please."

None of the neighbors who originally objected to awarding Henricksen the conditional-use permit attended the hearing.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Held a public hearing on the Kenai Comprehensive Plan. The last public hearing and vote to adopt the plan will be Nov. 5. Copies of the draft plan are available at city hall and on the city's Web site at www.cikenai.ak.us. Anyone wanting to suggest changes to the plan can submit their suggestions in writing to city by noon Oct. 31.

Voted unanimously to approve reducing the revenues in two senior citizen funds by a net of $9,155. The city passed its budget before some grants were awarded and its estimates of how much those grants would be were not accurate.

Voted unanimously to amend an ordinance that redefines the allowed hunting areas within the city. The ordinance itself was tabled for further review.

Voted unanimously to adopt an alternate allocation method for the fiscal year 2004 shared fisheries business tax program. The alternate method calls for dividing the allocation in two parts, one that is allocated to eligible municipalities equally and one allocated according to population.

Voted unanimously to support the Alaska Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, which asks the local boundary commission to recommend to the Alaska Legislature that it formally request residents of certain unorganized areas of the state to incorporate into boroughs to help operate and pay for their own local school systems.

Voted unanimously to approve spending $22,500 from the wellhouse No. 4 capital project fund for engineering services to continue developing the proposed wellhouse No. 4 site off Beaver Loop Road.



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