Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the name of council member Henry Knackstedt, who was originally named incorrectly as Harry Knackstedt.
Now that 2015 has arrived, some members of Kenai’s city council are making plans for action.
“I could go on and on about the things Kenai needs,” said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter. Her list includes an upgraded junk car ordinance, refurbishment of the city’s soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and parks, and designs for a possible amphitheater and convention center.
Other council members said that rather than making definite plans, they are approaching the year with readiness for whatever problems it may present.
“I don’t have anything that’s pressing for me,” said council member Terry Bookey. “I’m going to see how the year goes, what comes up. I think the best-laid plans are sometimes thwarted just by what comes up inadvertently.”
Council member Ryan Marquis said that he also intends to take a responsive, rather than active, stance.
“I do not currently have any planned legislation to propose,” Marquis said. “Some people measure legislative success by the number of laws they can get passed in their career. I tend to think it’s an equally important job to try and prevent new laws from being created, or at least speaking out against them.”
When asked what issues he’d like the city to look at in 2015, Marquis said that taking care of basic procedures would be his priority.
“The city should be concerned with some of the nuts-and-bolts functions of the city; you know, the non-sexy stuff like wastewater system upgrades, street and light repairs, etc.,” Marquis said. “I want to see the city continue to be a place that provides residents and businesses with the services they need.”
According to council members Robert Molloy, Henry Knackstedt, and Brian Gabriel, one of those non-sexy things may be the city’s purchasing policy. The three of them plan to consider reforms.
“Primarily, I’m looking at the purchasing code as it impacts professional services,” Knackstedt said. “How requests for proposals are done, how they are reviewed. It’s something I want to go through and kind of streamline a little bit.”
Knackstedt, Molloy, and Gabriel also plan to take a look at Kenai’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan, a document meant to provide a foundation for all the city’s land use decisions by outlining its basic goals, was last modified in 2003. In 2012 and 2013, the city council drafted an updated comprehensive plan that was rejected by Kenai voters through a ballot proposition in 2013’s municipal election.
Knackstedt, serving his first year as a council member, said that the plan is “a living document” which needs to be updated to reflect regional changes.
“Recently there’s been a lot of development around the inlet. The idea of the gas pipeline coming to Nikiski wasn’t really part of our thinking at the time. There’s a lot of industry growth around here, and we need to take a look at that, as to how that’s going to impact our city, and what we need to do to prepare for that. Those are all things that should be in a comprehensive plan.”
If the city council initiates an update of the comprehensive plan, action will start in the Planning and Zoning commission. The commission’s revisions would be unlikely to come before the city council, much less city voters, in 2015. Nonetheless, several council members said they plan to begin the process this year.
“I think about mid-year would be a good time to do that,” said Porter.
Marquis said that the comprehensive plan was not a priority of his.
“It has been a controversial topic in the past and I see that as something we can expect to see in the future. … Personally, I’ve seen the previous attempt to create a new comprehensive plan do more harm than good and am not looking forward to stirring that hornet’s nest back up.”
Kenai’s policy for granting conditional use permits, which allow businesses to operate in a certain part of the city, is something else Molloy wants to examine in the coming year. Molloy would like to see additional requirements for granting these permits.
Molloy said that existing policy for use permits holds grantees to “very basic standards.”
“Like your business has to be consistent with the comprehensive plan and the zone you’re in. That’s about it,” Molloy said.
Although Molloy said he hadn’t thought of any specific standards he would like to see added to conditional use permits, he was working with Knackstedt and Marquis on the issue and planned to hold work sessions on it in April.
“(The conditional use policy) is going to be particularly important with respect to implementation of the new marijuana law, after the state passes regulations,” Molloy said. “We’ll need to look at the different potential businesses, and where they should be located in the city.”
The state-level law allows that “a local government may prohibit the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities, or retail marijuana stores through the enactment of an ordinance or by a voter initiative,” and also gives local governments power to regulate “the time, place, manner, and number of marijuana establishment operations.” Molloy said that zoning ordinances might be a tool for the city’s marijuana regulation.
Other councilors are also preparing to consider the city’s options with regard to marijuana, although many said that action on the issue would be premature in the current absence of state regulations. Knackstedt said that however the issue is decided, it will require compromise.
“The vote within the city of Kenai was about as close to 50-50 as you could get,” Knackstedt said. “If you look at each extreme — if you make (growing or distributing) illegal in the city of Kenai, half the people are going to be upset. If you make it completely wide open, the other half is going to be upset. We’ll have to meet some kind of middle ground with this.”
The marijuana issue was last discussed by the council at a November meeting in which Mayor Porter proposed holding an event at which citizens could bring their opinions forth. The event was tentatively considered for March 2015.
“At that point, it sounded like folks wanted to see what would happen at the state level,” said Bookey, referring to the November meeting. “I’m certainly in that camp, and don’t see myself supporting any sort of preemptive regulation, for sure. Afterwards, I’m going to be pretty cautious about additional regulation beyond what the state puts in anyway.”
In the meantime, Knackstedt said that gathering information on the issue should be a priority.
“My position is to personally bone up on it. … For our city, it’s probably best to see what the state is doing, watch what direction bigger municipalities are going in. We might be able to draw from their experiences and their legislation. … We have some time, so that’s a luxury we should utilize.”
The state is currently preparing marijuana regulation through the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and plans to begin issuing licenses to marijuana businesses in early 2016.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.