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Kenai plan coming together

Posted: Friday, December 07, 2001

The city of Kenai would be a safe city, with cultural attractions within easy walking distance of a well-defined downtown core. Subdivisions would be developed with utilities in place, and there would be buffers between homes and businesses. The arts, parks and trails would be important features of the city, designed to allow citizens and visitors alike to enjoy them year-round.

Those are just some of the goals and objectives outlined in the draft of part of Kenai's comprehensive plan being developed this winter.

After an Oct. 27 public meeting, where attendees were turned into participants, scores of ideas were distilled into five pages of recommendations by the consulting firm Kevin Waring Associates of Anchorage.

The five-page report, referred to as draft chapter 2, was mailed to the nearly 100 people who turned out at the meeting on a cold Saturday morning in late October and is available on the city's World Wide Web site at www.ci.kenai.ak.us.

The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission will hear a presentation on the draft chapter at its 7 p.m. meeting on Wednesday. Eileen Bechtol, former planner for the city of Homer, will present the plan. Bechtol is a freelance planner working with Waring.

"I was impressed with how much consensus there was from everyone who attended," she said. "There weren't a lot of conflicting views. It seemed like everyone was on the same page and generally pleased with Kenai and the way things were going."

She said if she had to pull a few things out of the draft plan that seemed to be a common thread, it would be creation of an attractive downtown, individual choice on what utilities are extended to residential areas, senior citizen issues and public safety.

"I think one of the reasons people like living there is that Kenai is a safe place to live, with a low crime rate," she said. "I would say that's one of their values."

The draft chapter, which will be one of several in the final comprehensive plan, breaks down citizens' desires into 10 goals with a number of objectives for each.

The goals are:

1. Create an attractive, vital, cultural center in downtown, with a mix of private and public facilities and activities to benefit residents and visitors.

This includes creating a distinctive city center; developing a plan for the bluff property next to the Kenai Senior Citizens Center; renovating and reusing existing commercial buildings in the city center; establishing a more pedestrian-friendly downtown; stabilizing the bluff; and protecting and enhancing views of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet.

2. Protect and enhance the livability of residential neighborhoods.

This would entail providing for a variety of neighborhoods that offer a choice of urban, rural and suburban lifestyles; setting aside open spaces for neighborhood parks; providing service levels as requested by property owners directly affected; locating correctional halfway houses outside residential neighborhoods; and encouraging developers to build subdivisions with paved roads, sidewalks and other amenities.

3. Meet the needs of Kenai's growing senior population.

The objectives under that goal include developing an assisted living facility and additional senior housing near the senior center; encouraging health care and other businesses to locate within walking distance of senior housing; and providing safe year-round walkways near senior facilities.

4. Limit residential and commercial sprawl.

This encourages development of vacant lots and buildings already served by utilities and establishes uniform Alaska Housing Finance Corporation loan rates inside and outside the city (currently, interest rates are 1 percent higher in city limits). It also allows for a limited amount of new highway-oriented commercial development along the Kenai Spur Highway corridor.

5. Provide appropriate city facilities and levels of service.

Citizens want improvement to snow removal from roads, sidewalks and improved trails and improved street cleaning after break-up; active enforcement of zoning codes (the current system is complaint driven); paving of unimproved roads; improvement of the supply and quality of city water; and better maintenance of state roads.

6. Protect the city's natural areas and scenic views.

The draft calls for protection of wetlands and flood plains from adverse development. It also includes stabilizing the bluff and identifying land to be permanently preserved for natural open space.

7. Develop a local system of trails and public access.

Preserving old trails and established beach access were high on the list of this goal, as was developing a joint city-Kenai Peninsula Borough master plan to identify, restore and maintain trails. Construction of a bike/pedestrian path along Bridge Access Road is also included here.

8. Ensure that Kenai is a safe place to live.

This goal includes the continuation of emergency services as a priority; pursuing a public transportation system; looking at an alternate road to Anchorage other than the Sterling and Seward highways; and providing adequate police coverage.

9. Improve educational services for all age groups.

The suggestions for this goal include better maintenance for schools and researching the feasibility of providing local control of public education.

10. Expand or provide public facilities that increase the quality of life for Kenai's citizens and visitors.

There was quite a bit of support for the suggestions under this goal, which include expanding and developing facilities such as museums, performing arts and fine arts centers; expanding the Kenai Community Library; providing an adequate visitor's center; and developing better baseball and soccer fields.

Kenai City Planner Marilyn Kebschull said that while overall she was impressed with the plan, it looked like some kinks needed to be worked out in it.

"Keep in mind, it's just a draft," she said.

One passage that called for focusing retail services around the schools under the education goal caught her attention, because she did not hear that at the Oct. 27 meeting.

"I'm wondering if that would serve education much," she said. "It doesn't really mix, but those are the kinds of questions that come up and have to be addressed."

She also said developing assisted living centers is something the city can encourage, but it might be better developed by someone else.

"In general, I think that it's a good list with some great stuff in it. I was very impressed," she said.

"One of the things I noticed, and what I hope we get out of the comprehensive plan, is what direction the community wants as far as development requirements for subdivisions," Kebschull added. "Our code says they should be developed up to the city engineer's standards, but there are no specifications."

The comprehensive plan is due to be submitted to the city council by early summer. It's designed to look five to 20 years down the road.

Other chapters in the plan will look at land use and will make specific zoning suggestions, and an improvement plan, which will discuss transportation, housing, open space and planning.

"I would really encourage people to read the draft and make comments," Kebschull said. "This will be the first item on the Planning Commission's agenda."



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