Letters to the Editor

Ordinance allows for 'institutions' in mixed used, industrial districts

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

Ordinance allows for 'institutions' in mixed used, industrial districts

On Oct. 24, I attended a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The meeting was to vote on approving or disapproving the zoning of Diamond Ridge in the Homer area for mixed use (C-3) and industrial (C-4) districts. In my testimony, I directed several questions to the assembly regarding local option zoning ordinance 2000-02.

My questions were as follows:

1. What is the definition of "institutional" in mixed use (C-3) and industrial (C-4) districts?

2. Is it your intent to zone in halfway houses on privately owned lands, using this undefined word "institutional"?

Assemblyman Jack Brown asked me if I thought this was a back door approach to achieve this. Yes, I do! In my testimony, I proposed that before approving any zoning concerning C-3 and C-4 of this ordinance, that the word "institutional" be deleted or defined, as the intended usage of this word is not clearly stated. This ordinance was approved without a definition by a vote of 8-1. Tim Navarre was the only one opposed. This leaves the Diamond Ridge area vulnerable if a request for proposal is issued for a halfway house, private prison or mental institution.

You see, the important point here is that we don't know, because it's not in writing. Our assembly wishes to leaves this word "institutional" undefined, while implementing the adoption of these zones. This will apply not only to properties owned by the private sector, it will include K-Beach when the borough zones these properties and others as mixed use and industrial districts and then sells them.

This alone should be the issue: to strategically locate and zone these types of institutions in a responsible manner -- filling the needs of our communities for safe neighborhoods, as well as the needs of residential inmates and the Department of Corrections.

If anyone is as concerned about this issue as I am, I urge you to log on to the borough Web site at: http://www.borough.kenai.ak.us/planningdept/CCRC/cover/index.htm and read the citizens Correctional Community Residential Center (CCRC) task force report on locating halfway houses. The eight citizens serving on the task force labored on this report for seven months. The task force recommended eight government-owned parcels within a 25-mile radius of the Wildwood Correctional Center. The task force's job was to advise the assembly about sites that would pose the least detrimental effect and would be least injurious to other property owners in the immediate area.

When viewing the Web site, check out the maps of recommended sites for locating this type of facility with a half mile buffer zone from existing schools, day cares, senior citizen centers and liquor establishments.

We have a window of opportunity to zone in a responsible manner. This location is at the end of Willow Street next to the animal control shelter (site No. 5) in Kenai. Site No. 5 offers a buffer from residential areas. Many of the services required by inmates are within walking distance, such as the courthouse, probation officers, police, fire, medical, counseling, job opportunity, community and job services. It also would place this facility close to its primary feeders, Wildwood Correctional Center and the soon to be built juvenile detention center behind Kenai Chrysler on Marathon Road. Refer to map site No. 1. Sites No. 1 and No. 5 also offer ample land that can be utilized for other service industries needed for these types of institutions.

I believe a lot of credibility was given to this task force report when our assembly chose Site No. 1 for a juvenile detention center. Judge for yourselves whether site No. 5 would relieve many of the conflicts of interest and conflicts of land use that would arise from the placement of a halfway house on the peninsula. Take a drive out there and see for yourself.

My biggest fear is that this window is going to close. Either the city will use this land, or the assembly will set a precedent by using Ordinance 2000-02, C-3 and C-4 for locating halfway houses anywhere that's zoned for mixed use and industrial districts.

This whole zoning ordinance is set up only to fit the needs of our assembly, our lawmakers and other agencies. This ordinance does not provide the opportunity for write-in or open-ended options that would allow us to protect and prevent these types of institutions from being zoned in mixed use and industrial districts.

By placing these institutions on government-owned land, the public can be reasonably assured that no conflicts of interest will occur within our governing system, or among elected officials and private property owners. We need to corridor in these types of institutions. This ordinance will do nothing to relieve conflicts when an RFP is issued in the near future.

In planning for future placement of additional CCRCs on the peninsula, task forces should be formed in Seward and Homer of local citizens to determine the least objectionable government-owned land for this type of institution in their area. Hopefully, we will not need more than three on the peninsula. Ideally, we could build North Slope-style camps, lease them to private operators and use the lease money for youth programs and new or existing skill centers.

I would like to see a ballot measure go forward that would allow a vote by the people, to construct CCRCs on government-owned land only, using the criteria set forth by the task force. This can be referred to as a governmentto-government model.

We need to address this issue before a precedent is set on privately owned lands. At the very least, please let your assembly members know that you support the task force recommendations for strategically locating these types of institutions.

As of Nov. 16, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly News Page in the Clarion announced the intent to introduce an ordinance to publicly solicit bids or proposals for land, design, construction and operations of an 800- to 1,000-bed prison facility. (Ordinance 2000-59.)

I would have little objection to Site No. 10 of the task force report being used for this proposal.

1. It's strategically located on the backside of Wildwood Correctional Center.

2. It's Kenai Natives Association land, and the members of the tribes or association share the profits.

3. The possibility of a government-to-government model is being discussed between the state and the KNA.

The objection I would have is if the government-to-government model is not agreed upon and the precedent is set to fully privatize prisons on privately owned lands. By so doing, we will be setting ourselves up to creating conflicts of interest all over again, and losing the lease money from government-owned land for reinvesting.

The issue needs to be resolved, reinvented and reinvested so the public isn't constantly living under the threat of these institutions being placed indiscriminately on the Kenai Peninsula.

For further information on ordinances relating to the issue, log onto www.borough.kenai.

ak.us/assemblyclerk. View Ordinance 98-33, Chapters 21.25 Conditional Land Use Permits, and 21.27 Correctional Community Residen-tial Center (CCRC) Permits. You can also view Ordinance 2000-02 in its entirety.

Vicki Duggin


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