Housing project draws protest

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2008

A declaration that an affordable housing project across from Soldotna High School is going forward with or without the support of the city council did not sit well with council members who were being asked for a letter of support.

Contrarily, after hearing from neighbors opposed to the planned Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiative apartment buildings and from the executive director of the nonprofit housing corporation, the city council unanimously agreed to send a letter to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation "strongly opposing" the project.

Two weeks ago, KPHI asked the council to support its grant request to the state finance corporation for funds to build two five-plexes on a 1.35-acre parcel adjacent to its Crestview facility on Sohi Street off Marydale Avenue.

In a letter to the city, Jenny Carroll, special projects director for KPHI, said, " ... the proposed site underwent public process to establish screening barriers and subdivision covenants. The lot has been reviewed and approved for development of a multifamily project and dialog has been ongoing with neighboring properties."

On Wednesday, KPHI Executive Director Steven Rouse told the council the project has received the support of "state representatives, national representatives and other bodies, including (Rep. Mike) Chenault and (Rep. Kurt) Olson."

However, Olson, who attended the council meeting Wednesday, said his office did not write a letter supporting the project, and he did not believe Chenault's office did either.

On Thursday, Chenault said he did sign a letter of support of the concept of affordable housing, but he did not recall any particular location being mentioned.

"In concept, I do support housing and opportunities for the less fortunate, but it must go through the public process," he said.

Several homeowners from the Ridgewood Avenue neighborhood, which sits above the Crestview facility, said there was no dialog between them and KPHI.

Sherry Nauta, one of the homeowners, read a letter signed by 10 Ridgewood residents, saying, "In fact, (KPHI) actually petitioned to remove the screening barriers and this was denied."

Nauta was referring to a 30-foot wide strip of trees that had served as a screen between Ridgewood and the proposed development property. The trees were clear cut prior to KPHI being denied permission to remove the barrier.

Also at issue is a 15- to 20-foot high pile of dirt left on the proposed site after the Crestview project was built and a Conex box and 40-foot truck trailer parked on the proposed property.

The homeowners alleged that KPHI had repeatedly promised to remove the dirt mound and equipment but has failed to do so.

During introductory remarks, Rouse described the Crestview facility as "an apartment house for the benefit of the Alaska Mental Health Trust."

He said the proposed Hill Crest Manor differs in that the only requirement of people living in the three- and four-bedroom apartments is that they must meet a certain limited income amount.

"We give them safe, high-quality shelter," Rouse said.

Councilman Peter Micciche, who was sworn in Wednesday as the next mayor of Soldotna, asked Rouse how KPHI determines whether one of its housing projects fits into an established neighborhood.

At first, Rouse said the only criteria was a city's zoning code, but clarified his response saying population density also is considered.

The two five-plexes being proposed would only occupy 30 percent of the land, he said. "That property would support two 16-plexes."

The land is zoned multifamily residential. Buildings on both sides of Sohi Street from Marydale to Kobuk Street are multifamily.

After further questions regarding whether KPHI would pay property tax on the new buildings, Rouse said, "Whether or not this body provides a letter of support, this project is going forward. We're going to get it done."

Former mayor and current apartment owner Ken Lancaster told the council, "While I might be in favor of his projects (for low-income families), his arrogance is disappointing ... he'll build come hell or high water."

Another Ridgewood homeowner, Chris Stephl said, "This is going to put a very high-density housing project into the lowest-density neighborhood of the city."

Typical residential lots on Ridgewood Avenue are 2-acre lots.

"We bought our property at a premium," Stephl said. "We feel this will devalue our property."

"You would have this great big high-rise towering over our neighborhood," said Ridgewood resident Debi Smith.

To put the proposed buildings in perspective, resident Peter Brennan said, "This would be slightly larger than the big condominiums now in the middle of our town."

After the council agreed to send a letter to the state housing finance corporation opposing the project, Olson said he also would be contacting AHFC to inform them of being misrepresented by KPHI.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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