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Borough comp plan garners questions, concerns from public

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2003

Ongoing efforts to garner public comments needed to help write a new Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan continued this week as representatives of the borough and the consulting company it hired to oversee revamping the policy-guiding document spoke to a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience Tuesday.

The comprehensive plan was last updated in 1992. The revised plan, that is to be completed by next fall, is meant to help guide borough decisions through 2015.

The first step in writing a new plan is to identify new issues that need to be addressed. Toward that end, the consultant firm Cogan Owens Cogan of Portland, Ore., began holding a series of public meetings last week that will continue at different forums in different communities through Nov. 6. (For a list of remaining meeting locations and times, see page A-4.)

Representing Cogan at the luncheon was Matt Hastie, the consulting team manager, and his assistant Susan Roberts. They were accompanied by Crista Cady-Hippchen, the borough's project manager on the plan rewrite.

"We're in the information gathering stage," Hastie said, calling the public forum schedule "a meeting blitz."

Following the end of the first round of public meetings, Cogan will begin analyzing information about conditions in the borough and updating the current plan's goals, policies and actions. That work will continue into June of next year.

A preliminary draft document is to be ready by September 2004, and a second round of public meetings will be held in October 2004. The draft will be reviewed and refined through April 2005, and a final comprehensive plan adopted around May 2005.

Joining Cogan are The McDowell Group, based in Anchorage, which is heading up survey efforts, updating selected portions of the plan and assisting with public outreach, and Ecotrust, a nonprofit Portland, Ore.-based research firm that will assist with computer mapping and spatial analysis. Kittelson and Associates Inc. will evaluate transportation issues and help with selected public meetings.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission and Borough Assembly will review and adopt the new comprehensive plan.

Beginning in late November or early December, some 600 borough homes will be called in a telephone survey. Cady-Hippchen said the borough is aware that many residents may have signed up for the much-publicized national "Do Not Call" list. But the information that might come from their participation could be very valuable to the project, she said.

"The survey should last about 10 minutes," she said. "We really need the public's help in making it a success."

The comprehensive plan focuses on the unincorporated areas of the borough, but does make references to the comprehensive plans written and used by cities within the borough.

As work on the comprehensive plan proceeds, so does a similar update of the borough's transportation plan, which will become part of the final comprehensive plan.

Hastie said Cogan was specifically steering away from taking much in the way of comments on transportation issues during public forums on the comprehensive plan. Other public hearings are planned for the transportation plan.

Comprehensive plans put into print a community's basic goals and values, which facilitates planning. An increasing number of state and federal grants on which efforts to meet those goals depend now require some kind of working plan to be in place, said Cady-Hippchen.

Hastie said he wasn't there to extend a lot of answers to questions, some of which don't exist yet, but rather to hear the concerns of residents, which will be analyzed and incorporated in the comprehensive plan rewrite.

The plan includes a section on economic development. One person in the audience wanted to know how he, a retired person, might be affected by economic development.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey wanted to know if Cogan would be seeking opinions from part-time residents who live here only in the summer.

Hastie said the company would try to contact those people before the next round of comments next year.

Someone else wanted to know why gasoline costs more on the peninsula than it does in Anchorage. Another asked that the plan address a bridge across Funny River. A third requested that the plan include a section on public trails.

An issue drawing comment was land use. Hastie noted that the borough does very little in the way of zoning beyond regulating gravel pits, half-way houses, subdivision standards and isolated "local-option zoning."

He said precepts of the plan were to minimize regulation of private property and resolve conflicts between neighboring land uses.

Other areas of interest noted by audience members included land-conveyance from the state, public boat launches, green belts, as well as the future of public facilities such as solid waste sites, hospitals, schools and fire and emergency services.

One person suggested that applying user fees to solid waste dumping might prove detrimental to the environment because some people might choose to dump anywhere instead of paying to use solid waste sites.

The current plan can be downloaded at www.kpbcompplan.com. Among other things, the site includes a page for submitting comments. Once one is in the works, a draft of the new plan also will be available.



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