A raucous crowd the largest to attend a Kenai planning and zoning commission meeting in recent memory persuaded the commission Wednesday not to approve a conditional use permit sought by a Washington state developer hoping to build a recreational vehicle park near one of Kenai's most upscale neighborhoods.
Spokane-based Blue Sky Pilots Trust had planned to bring a 100-plus unit RV park to the Kenai's VIP Estates neighborhood, which is located on the south side of the Kenai River just inside the city limits. However, following testimony overwhelmingly against the RV park, the commission voted unanimously against granting the permit.
Neighborhood residents listed a wide range of potential problems the park could bring, including decreased property values, the potential for sewer contamination and increased noise, traffic and criminal activity. Another concern raised by VIP residents included the potential for the park to clear-cut trees, eliminating a buffer between the neighborhood and Kalifornsky Beach Road.
"We fear a negative financial impact and don't want the city's experiment placed on our back," said Karen Koester, a VIP resident who spoke against the park.
Others who spoke against the park said the neighborhood's unique quality would be compromised if the park were to be built something they said would not be in keeping with zoning laws. The area is zoned "rural residential," which means an RV park could be allowed by a conditional use permit, but only if it would not "violate the residential character" of the neighborhood.
"This is not in keeping with the character of the subdivision," said Chris Gabriel, who also spoke against the park.
Gabriel said he would be prepared to challenge the park in court if the commission decided to grant the permit.
"You should be prepared for the other alternatives me and my neighbors have to take," he said.
Neighborhood residents submitted a petition with more than 150 names opposing the development.
The majority of people who spoke cited the character of the neighborhood as an overriding factor in their opposition, saying increased traffic during fishing season, the potential for loud parties and the danger bringing more vehicles into the neighborhood would pose to children as their chief concerns.
"I want to live in a neighborhood, not a commercial zone," VIP resident Charlie Jones said.
Of the 32 people who testified before the commission, only three spoke in favor of the development. One of those, Mark Hall, said the park would bring a needed financial boost to the area.
"We need economic development in this community," Hall said.
Ken Peck of Blue Sky said he believes the park would be in keeping with the neighborhood, and that a seasonal-use park would be good for the area.
"I propose that the 10 acres of K-Beach road is conducive to residential use," he said.
Peck said concerns over the cutting of trees was overblown because Blue Sky would keep a buffer zone between the park and the rest of the neighborhood.
"We do intend to retain the natural beauty of the property," Peck said. "... When that short season is over, this property returns to 10 vacant acres with zero impact to the community."
VIP resident Bill Popp said the developers failed to do enough research into their plan.
"The RV park proposal is fundamentally flawed for its lack of research," Popp said.
Popp said the opposition to the park is not rooted in area residents' being antidevelopment.
"Our neighborhood is not advocating a NIMBY not in my back yard attitude," he said.
Popp pointed out that Kenai Landing, another commercial development near the neighborhood, is fully supported by area residents.
"We love that development," he said.
However, Kenai Landing is located down Cannery Road along the Kenai River, while the proposed RV park would directly border the neighborhood.
One speaker appeared to contradict Popp's claim that VIP residents were not only opposed to the park because it would be so close to their homes.
"None of us want this in our back yard," said VIP resident Chris Faucheux.
Following the decision by the commission, Blue Sky representative Ken Jayne said the concerns brought up by neighborhood residents were unfounded and based on incorrect information.
Jayne said Blue Sky would not clear cut the trees in the area, nor would the park degrade the quality of the neighborhood.
"Six of the 10 acres is set aside as a buffer," Jayne said.
Jayne said VIP residents may have become their own worst enemies by opposing the park because other uses he used low-income housing as an example could be found for the land and would be permissible under the zoning laws.
"The best chance for preserving the continuity of the neighborhood was tonight," he said.
Jayne also noted that if neighbors have concerns about contamination, they have to look no further than across K-Beach, where a gas station and seafood processing plant are already located. He said he was frustrated by the opposition painting the RV park as a potential blight on the neighborhood.
"Let's talk about facts, not misconceptions," he said.
Jayne and Peck said they aren't sure if they'll appeal the ruling. They have 15 days from Wednesday's hearing to do so.
In the end, the argument that the RV park would significantly degrade the quality of life for neighborhood residents won over the commission members.
"As submitted, this is not acceptable to me," commissioner Barry Eldridge said.
Commissioner Nelson Amen said he also was concerned the development could hurt water quality in the neighborhood, which is served mainly by shallow wells.
"You could very easily degrade the water table and quality of drinking water in that area," Amen said. "Once that's gone, that's gone."
As the hearing drew to a close, commissioner John Hammelman thanked the crowd which overflowed outside the 70-seat council chambers into the hallway for taking an interest in the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"We meet two times a month, and you're always welcome," he said.
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