After much public debate and considerable wrangling by city administration and council members, the Kenai City Council on Wednesday passed a compromise resolution protecting most of the trees along Walker Lane from the ax of future development.
A buffer strip of mixed spruce and hardwood trees will remain between the Sprucewood Glen Subdivision and the city's business district where a new Aspen Hotel is being built behind the McDonald's restaurant.
The buffer will extend from approximately Lawton Drive on the north to Tern Avenue on the south. Sprucewood Glen residents had asked for the buffer to remain all the way to the Kenai Spur Highway.
When the treed parcel first became an issue, Homer Electric Association asked the city for a 20-foot wide utility easement behind the Aspen Hotel in order to bring electricity to the new inn. HEA already had a 60-foot wide easement for an electricity transmission line running down the middle of the parcel, and said it would trade that easement for the smaller one, with eventual plans of abandoning the transmission line.
Administration saw the swap as a plus for the city, but Sprucewood Glen homeowners loudly protested the removal of any trees from the green strip that separates them from the commercial businesses.
Responding to the protest, the city divided the parcel into lot A and lot B, saying lot A at the corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Walker Lane would be reserved for potential future commercial development, and lot B would be platted as a buffer strip into perpetuity.
The commercial development was said to be for the financial benefit of the airport, which originally held title to the property by way of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Long-time Kenai resident and former city councilman Buck Steiner said "In all those meetings, I have yet to hear anyone say, 'Get rid of those trees.'
"I have heard no groundswell against the buffer strip," Steiner said.
Speaking on behalf of the Airport Commission, Jason Carroll said, "I just want to see the airport be compensated for that property either way. If the residents want to keep it (as a buffer) let them lease it."
Saying he attended the most recent Airport Commission meeting when the issue was raised, Ed Steiner said, "The Airport Commission the other night said they don't even know what land they had."
City Attorney Cary Graves said, "In the '70s, the Walker Lane strip was deeded to the city for the benefit of the airport."
Kellie Kelso, one of the residents most outspoken on the issue, said, "If you were in our place, you would be fighting for these trees too."
Following others who testified in favor of saving the trees, Howard Dorsey asked, "How many other buffers should we knock down just to put a few more bucks in the city's coffers? If I want paved, I'll go to Anchorage."
Responding to the remonstrance that the lot B buffer did not go far enough to protect all residents in the subdivision, Councilman Rick Ross offered an amendment, moving the northern edge of the buffer zone 30 feet north, placing it approximately across from Lawton Drive.
Councilwoman Linda Swarner said, "I see Ross' idea as a compromise I can support."
After the Ross amendment was voted in, the resolution establishing lot B as the buffer strip and leaving the corner lot at the Spur Highway available for possible commercial development was approved on a 4-3 vote.
Council members Barry Eldridge, Ross, and Swarner, and Mayor Pat Porter were in favor; Councilmen Bob Molloy, Mike Boyle and Hal Smalley opposed.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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