A controversial bed-and-breakfast operation in an exclusive high-rent subdivision on the Kenai River received the approval of the Soldotna City Council.
The council, which sat as the city's board of adjustment Wednesday evening, heard testimony both for and against upholding an Oct. 13 planning and zoning commission decision granting a conditional-use permit for the B-and-B in Kenai River Estates.
The commission approved the permit application of William Wirin, who designed two bedrooms in the home specifically with a B-and-B in mind.
The planning and zoning commission decision was appealed by Anchorage businessman Bob Penny, who owns two lots in the subdivision. His son, Henry Penny, who represented him in his absence, said the commission's decision was in error. City Manager Tom Boedeker, who represented the city in the hearing-like proceeding, said there was a solid basis for the decision, and that the commission and planning staff agreed there was no reason to overturn it.
"A bed-and-breakfast is a commercial intrusion in a residential setting," Penny said.
He pointed out that the city has approved 260 B-and-Bs over the years.
"What neighborhood is safe from them? How many is enough?" he asked rhetorically.
He also said B-and-Bs were unfair competition to hotels and motels that must meet much stronger requirements, such as access for the disabled and safety inspections. He described Kenai River Estates as an exclusive subdivision restricted by covenants, with homes valued at $250,000.
"A commercial intrusion will ruin the property values," Penny said. "Many people will not consider buying property next to a bed-and-breakfast."
He said his father will file a breech of covenants lawsuit against Wirin if the council allowed the B-and-B to go ahead. Both Bob Penny and Wirin are board members of Kenai River Sportfishing Inc., an advocacy group for sport fishers.
Kelly Huber alluded to that fact when she testified, saying her husband, Brett, was employed by the two of them to direct KRSI.
"We're friends with both parties," she said. "I would ask that you hold off a while. I'd like a chance for the neighborhood to find a consensus."
Boedeker argued that a large number of B-and-Bs have been permitted along the river inside Soldotna, and it was the city's experience that they do not cause problems or decrease property values.
"(Property values) have gone up in proportion with other properties in neighborhoods, so there is no impact," he said. "Areas up stream and down stream (of Kenai River Estates) have seen no traffic impacts of an unusual nature. We do not see special circumstance there."
Council member Sharon Moock recalled a time 15 years ago when she was on the council and it approved the first conditional-use permit for a B-and-B in the city.
"The arguments were all the same then. This is like a replay," she said. "The neighborhood was shattered, and we have the same scenario here."
She said she lived down the street from the first B-and-B and said if property values were to be affected, hers would be, too.
"I can tell you my property value has increased three times in 15 years," she said. "I find the argument Mr. Penny brought forward not to be true."
The council voted 6-0 to deny Penny's appeal and uphold the planning and zoning commission's decision.
Council member Joyce Cox urged the parties involved to work together and not grow apart as friends.
In other news from Wednesday's council meeting:
n Dena Cunningham and several members of the Denali Ice Club presented a large thank-you card to Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael for his help in getting the club back on its feet.
Cunningham said the club was $5,000 in the hole to the Soldotna Sports Center going into this skating season, but struck a repayment deal with Carmichael. In it, the young skaters would put on a skate-a-thon to raise $2,700 and pay off the rest in installments. Carmichael donated ice time late at night for the fund-raiser.
Instead of raising just enough for a down payment, the Midnight Madness skate-a-thon raised $5,364, and the debt was paid in full.
"I would like to publicly thank the city of Soldotna and Andrew Carmichael," Cunningham said as several girls in skating costumes presented the 2-by-3-foot card to Carmichael.
"He still sold us ice time, even though we were in debt and a known risk at the time. Thank you."
Carmichael later got praise from council members for his ability to work with people so well behind the scenes.
n Returning council member Jane Stein was sworn in by City Clerk Patricia Burdick. Stein won re-election on Oct. 2 but was absent at the Oct. 24 meeting when the other two new council members, Moock and Audrey Porter, were sworn in.
n The Soldotna Visitors Center visitation figures were presented to the council. The total visitation of 65,842 between May 1 and Sept. 30 was down 9,592 over summer 2000. The 2001 figure was still 11,512 more than 1999.
n The council adopted a resolution supporting a new route for the Sterling Highway between miles 42 and 60, saying the current route through Cooper Landing was hazardous, with sharp turns and narrow roads.
n It also passed a resolution entering the city into a sole-source contract with Book Publishing Services to put the city's code on the Internet. The initial cost will be $5,122, with a $500 annual recurring cost.
n The council liked an idea of Carmichael's to move up expansion of Swiftwater Park. Since so many spruce bark beetle-killed trees have been removed there, along with their root-wads, Carmichael said the city would save $100,000 if it moved quickly to develop the land.
"If we left it idle, the grass would grow back and we'd have to re-clear it," he said.
He said by adding 50 campsites to Swiftwater, the city would see an increase of $26,000 per summer in camping revenue.
Cox said it looked like a good return on the city's investment, while Stein said the city should jump on such an opportunity when it is presented. Council member Kurt Olson agreed, saying it sounded like a good idea to him.
Boedeker said he will bring back a formal proposal to the council in December or January.
The next council meeting will be held Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at city hall.
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