Changes to Kenai’s junk vehicle code proposed by city administration could change how “junk vehicle” is defined, how owners can keep vehicles, and how the junk vehicle code is enforced.
The proposed changes to the junk vehicle code come in an ordinance written by Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, in collaboration with the Kenai Planning Department, headed by City Planner Matt Kelley. Kenai’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the changes to council in a work session on the issue on May 13. Koch said he plans to continue revising the ordinance for introduction at the Kenai City Council’s August 19 meeting, leading to a public hearing and council vote on September 2.
“The (junk vehicle) code right now is somewhat difficult to enforce,” Kelley said. “So this cleans up the definitions of what a junk vehicle is.”
Although Kenai municipal code has had a chapter prohibiting abandoned vehicles since the code’s creation in 1984, it presently includes no definition of “abandoned vehicle,” although it does define another prohibited category of “junk vehicle.” In addition to defining an abandoned vehicle as one left unattended on a public street or property for longer than 72 hours, the new ordinance also adds a new condition to its definition of junk vehicle. The definition of “junk vehicle” consists of six conditions, any two of which designate a vehicle as junk. The new ordinance would add a lack of vehicle registration to the list — a condition also included in Alaska state statute.
The current code prohibits leaving such vehicles outdoors on “any property within the city” for longer than 72 hours. The recommended changes expand the time limit to 30 days and allow for a vehicle to remain outside provided it is completely hidden from public view and the views from neighboring properties.
Koch called the allowance for outside storage “the fundamental change” of the ordinance.
“You’ll hear, like: ‘What if I have a 1932 Ford 3-window Coupe and it’s not registered, two tires are off?’” Koch said, naming two conditions that would classify a vehicle as junk. “A reasonable person would say, ‘Well, that’s not necessarily junk. It’s a 1932 Ford 3-window Coupe. They’re worth a lot of money.’ So the compromise is that if there’s a question of whether something is junk or not, it can still be junk and you can still store it. You just have to cover it up.”
The proposed new code also specifies how a vehicle must be covered: in a storage area with a minimum six-foot high fence and two thousand square feet for each vehicle, which may not contain more than four vehicles on a single parcel of property. Each vehicle must also be covered with a car cover designed for covering cars — the proposed changes specifically exclude tarps and canvas coverings — which must be an earth-tone color.
Members of the city council got an initial look at the proposed ordinance during a work session on July 21. As a result of that work session, Koch said the language of the proposed ordinance was likely to change before it reached City Council for formal discussion.
“I’m probably going to do away with the earth-tone thing,” Koch said. “To specify that in law is probably not something you’ll see in the next version of the proposed ordinance.”
Junk or abandoned vehicles can be impounded 30 days after a notice of violation is sent, or towed immediately if an enforcing officer determines them to be a hazard or obstruction. The owner must pay towing and storage fees in addition to a fine of up to $500. The vehicle may be destroyed 30 days after impoundment if the enforcer determines that it is beyond repair or has no significant value.
The proposed changes also remove a rule that states “no vehicle may be removed from private property without the consent of the property owner or applicant.” In a memo accompanying the draft ordinance, Kelley wrote that Planning Department staff had recommended that “this code provision be removed because it restricts the ability of the City to enforce the abandoned vehicle code.”
Koch said that a court order is required to remove vehicles from private property.
The present junk vehicle code puts enforcement responsibility on Kenai’s chief of police, authorizing the chief or a designated officer to remove and impound “any vehicle that reasonably appears to be in violation of any regulation or ordinance, or lost, stolen, or unclaimed.” The recommended changes specify the city manager as the code’s enforcer, and give him or her — or a designee — the same authorization.
Koch said this change reflects a situation that already exists — although in the early 2000’s, the Kenai Police Department had a code enforcement officer whose responsibilities included the junk vehicle code, code-related complaints and citations are now handled through the city Planning department by Kelley and his assistant Wilma “Willie” Anderson.
Kelley said that code enforcement is based on complaints by residents.
“It’s pretty rare that we actually cite somebody,” Kelley said, adding that he has yet to issue a citation in his nearly one year as Kenai’s city planner. As of print time on Saturday evening, no information was available about how many citations Kenai has issued under the junk vehicle code, or how many vehicles have been impounded.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.