Assembly delays decision on planning commission membership

The various city and advisory planning commissions around the Kenai Peninsula Borough will get another chance to review a proposal that would reduce the borough’s planning commission membership.

Assembly member Brent Johnson proposed an ordinance in June that would reduce the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission from its current 13 members to 11 members. The commission has been out of compliance based on the borough’s population since the 2010 census, and to come into compliance, it would have to have 15 members. The population of the borough outside the cities has grown and needs additional representation on the commission under borough code.

Johnson said he thought 15 members would be too many and sought to change the borough code to reduce the number of representatives from cities. The commission used to have 11 members and got through its business, he said. He originally sought to reduce the number from 13 to nine. After objections from the borough planning commission and the planning bodies of the cities, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and assembly member Dale Bagley made an amendment changing the final number to 11.

Navarre submitted a substitute amendment for consideration at the assembly’s Aug. 23 meeting that would reduce the number of commissioners to 11 but delay the reduction for another four years.

“If you’re getting the job done with 11 and you had to move to 13, why in the world would you want 15?” Johnson said at the assembly’s Aug. 23 meeting. “That all seems mighty counter-sensible. The mayor’s substitute says this thing is simply going to be compliant and allows the flexibility to appoint the commissioners as the population changes so that it can be compliant with state law.”

By Aug. 1, 2020, when the new rules would go into effect, some of the current members’ terms will expire and the next census will be taking place, providing more updated information about the borough’s population, which affects the apportionment of the planning commission, according to the mayor’s substitute ordinance.

If the assembly accepts the substitute, as of Aug. 1, 2020, the planning commission members would be “apportioned so that the number of members from home rule and first class cities reflects the proportion of borough population residing in home rule and first class cities located in the borough,” the ordinance states. Only one member of the commission would come from any single home rule or first class city unless the population there requires it.

The rest of the members can be appointed from the other existing areas of the peninsula, with the change that Anchor Point, Ninilchik, Clam Gulch and Kasilof are all included in one seat, while they are currently separated into two.

Cities hold some of their own planning and zoning authority, including platting and creating their own comprehensive plans subject to approval by the borough’s planning commission, so few issues from the cities generally come before the full planning commission, Navarre wrote in the memo.

“This proposal seeks the most qualified candidates while reducing the disproportionate representation of the cities on the commission,” Navarre wrote in the memo.

The city planning and zoning committees did not support the reduction in membership as previously proposed, nor did the borough’s planning commission. Paulette Carluccio, who represents Seldovia on the Planning Commission, testified to the borough assembly Aug. 23 that the borough assembly should give the various planning groups a chance to review the substitute before passing it, in line with the Planning Commission’s recommendation at its Aug. 22 meeting.

For her own part, she said she still felt Seldovia was cut out of the planning commission in the mayor’s substitute.

“This one has the appearance of giving us an opportunity to maybe have a say or a voice on the planning commission, but it really doesn’t because if you look at the apportionment and the politics of having four cities represented and five cities, there’s only one city that has the least population, and that’s going to be Seldovia,” Carluccio said. “And so Seldovia, as of August 2020, will have a very slim if any chance of ever being on the planning commission.”

Johnson said although Seldovia has a smaller population, it is still a city and qualifies for representation if someone from there applied.

“An applicant (with a qualified background) could still be appointed from Seldovia, if the mayor had the guts to do that,” Johnson said.

The ordinance will come up for hearing again at the assembly’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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