Wal-Mart gets go-ahead from council

City OKs lease

Posted: Friday, December 09, 2005

Unlike previous public meetings addressing a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter coming to Kenai, the city council meeting Wednesday drew only a handful of folks wishing to comment on the plan.

The Kenai City Council chamber was filled to standing-room-only capacity for a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting and a city council meeting in November, following the announcement Wal-Mart planned to come to town.

Only five people were in the audience solely to hear about that issue this week as the council formally approved Wal-Mart’s lease application to build a 235,000-square-foot combination grocery and general merchandise store on 37 acres of airport property behind Kenai Chrysler Center.

Three addressed the city leaders — one favoring the Wal-Mart plan, one asking that the council continue to keep the permitting and planning process open to the public, and one speaking on behalf of Lounsbury and Associates, the Anchorage developers representing the retail giant.

Speaking in favor of Wal-Mart, Janice Houtz of Kenai said, “Wal-Mart does $250 billion in annual sales ... Wal-Mart must earn its customers’ patronage every day, ... they are.”

She also said Wal-Mart provides jobs to entry level people and, reading from a published article about the company, she said Wal-Mart donated more than $170 million to charities in 2004.

Nikiski resident Peter McKay said he “would like to encourage the mayor and the council to keep the Lounsbury development process open,” and he encouraged the council to have Lounsbury conduct an open house for the public.

Council member Rick Ross made a motion to approve the lease application, and council member Robert Molloy sought to have the motion amended to assure the city reserves the right to negotiate details of the development.

Ross argued that attaching such a condition to the lease application would not be in line with Kenai’s municipal code.

“The amendment is too broad. It nullifies all the verbiage of the lease. It throws out all the rules of our code,” Ross said.

Molloy said his intent was to assure the public will have an opportunity to negotiate the details of the development with Wal-Mart.

Molloy’s amendment failed, and the lease application was approved unanimously.

Immediately following the vote, Ross moved that when Wal-Mart submits its site plan to the city administration, the plan be brought to the city council for approval. His motion also received unanimous approval.

Mayor Pat Porter invited Lounsbury representative Tom Adams to address the council. He said his company looks forward to working with the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission on a site plan and to working with the city.

“I’m very anxious to have Wal-Mart come to our community,” Porter said.

The approved lease is for a 20-year base term with 14 five-year options to extend.

As the lessee, Wal-Mart will have first right of refusal on purchasing the land, and according to interim City Manager Chuck Kopp, it has been Wal-Mart’s practice to buy the land it builds on.

The lease application calls for development to begin in April and be completed by October 2007.

Relating to the ongoing search for a new city manager, Kopp told the council he has one more interview to conduct and would like to schedule a work session in hopes of narrowing the field to two finalists. Council members agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Five semifinalists have been selected from 54 people who applied for the position, open since July when the council decided not to renew City Manager Linda Snow’s contract.

City officials have not revealed why Snow’s contract was not renewed, other than to say the decision was in the best interest of the city.

Former Council member Jim Butler reported what he described as a “most egregious practice” by a Kenai developer who reportedly is pushing large amounts of organic and inorganic waste materials off the Kenai bluffs about 1 1/2 miles north of the Kenai River mouth.

“None of the activity is permitted,” Butler said.

He described damage to the bluff and the beach below as being “hundreds of feet across.”

“I request the city take strong, firm, aggressive action against the developer,” Butler said.

“I met with Brian Lowe, the developer, on Monday,” Kopp said.

“He said he thought the trail to the beach was on his property. It’s not. It is the property of the city,” he said.

The developer was told he was considered to be trespassing and was ordered to cease and desist. He also was asked to hydro seed the entire area, according to Kopp.

A formal letter is to be sent to the developer, and Ross asked that the issue be placed on the council’s next meeting agenda.

In other business, the council:

· Introduced Ordinance 2135-2005, appropriating $6,100 to the Peninsula Art Guild for building repairs;

· Introduced Ordinance 2136-2005, authorizing the sale of four parcels of Kenai River wetlands to the Conservation Fund to be placed in a land trust for preservation; and

· Scheduled a public hearing for Feb. 1 on a proposed McCollum and Aliak drives paving assessment district.

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