Census figures causing changes on planning panel

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2001

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission will change shape now that 2000 census figures show the percentage of the population on the peninsula living in a first-class city has dropped.

State laws require planning commission membership to mirror the composition of the borough. That means 65 percent of the commissioners must come from unincorporated areas.

The borough code states the commission will have a member from each of the peninsula's cities, but under the current proportions, that would require the commission to swell from 11 members to 13 or 14 to stay in compliance.

Borough assembly President Tim Navarre introduced an ordinance at today's assembly meeting to eliminate the borough mandate of one member from each city, but said he did so just to start the debate about what changes should be made.

"I introduced the ordinance to start the discussion," Navarre said, noting the law required a change.

He said the planning commission, which works with land sales and leases, vacations of rights of way and utility easements, flood-plain permitting and other issues, has previously included up to 11 members: one from Kenai, Soldotna, Seldovia, Homer and Seward and six members from around the peninsula.

Some areas, such as Sterling, have never had a person on the commission, even though the code allows anyone from anywhere in the borough to be selected to serve.

Navarre said some communities, such as Anchor Point, have traditionally had an appointed member, but such a position is not guaranteed. How many members the commission will have, and from where, remains up to the assembly, as long as the makeup complies with state statutes.

Navarre said the assembly could change the regulations so only cities with a certain population would have a delegated seat on the commission. That might mean smaller cities, such as Seldovia, would no longer have a specific seat. Representatives from such communities could still be selected by the borough mayor, but the assembly has the power to choose candidates from any unincorporated area.

Meanwhile, the Homer area is contributing a novel idea.

Homer Planning Commissioner Bill Smith, who is Homer's nominee to the borough commission, suggests dividing the borough into 11 advisory planning commission areas, proportional to population. Then, each would contribute one member to the borough planning commission.

Currently, each city has a representative, but none of the four existing advisory planning commissions is officially represented on the panel.

Advantages include more equal representation for borough residents, closer communication between advisory committees and the borough planning commission, better access to the planning commission process and an increased resource of "local knowledge" available to the borough planning commission.

"At this point, it's a bolt out of the blue," Smith said, adding he plans to start spreading his idea.

Last week, the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission heard it, discussed it and passed a resolution favoring it.

Smith said he expects opposition will arise because it reduces the power any one city has on the commission.

Still, it solves other problems.

"We would see a real distribution (of members) from around the borough," he said. "And it would solve the apportionment dilemma."

Navarre explained the reapportionment problem to the Homer City Council Monday and asked for comments.

"I just want the cities to understand, so everyone feels like they are being treated fairly," he said.

Navarre said it likely will be discussed at several meetings of the assembly, and public comment is encouraged.

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News. Homer News Managing Editor Joel Gay contributed to this story.

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