Borough debates local option zone changes

Forming a local option zone may soon be easier for residents who want more control over what businesses can move into their neighborhoods.

Local option zones are areas in which the majority of residents have control over what businesses can be established there. The code was last revised about 15 years ago. Since then, six of the areas have been formed. There are currently 14 total local option zones within the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The requirements for setting up the zones are somewhat cumbersome, though. To get one established, at least three-quarters of residents have to sign a petition requesting that the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly set stronger limitations on land use in a particular area than is stipulated by the borough code. There must be at least 12 lots in the proposed zone, and the requirements for different types of local option zones vary.

The code was identified in the borough’s 2005 comprehensive plan as a target for revision. Members of the public have repeatedly complained about the complexity of the code over the years. The complaints about the code were rehashed in 2014 at a community meeting, spurring the need for a rewrite.

The code was complex and onerous for those seeking to apply, said Max Best, the borough planning director. At the same time, it was mostly being used as a weapon against gravel pits in residential areas.

“Most of the people had no idea what that meant, other than there was going to be no gravel pit,” Best said. “I think it was being used as more of a sword than a shield. We decided we would say, ‘Here’s the change. Here’s what it means to you, and here’s what we’re going to govern within that area.’”

If the proposed changes pass, only one person would need to come in and start the process, outlining the area he or she wants to zone, Best said. From there, the planning department would walk the petitioners through the process and conduct public meetings so the residents are all on track with the staff throughout the process.

“That way, we don’t get down in front of the assembly and the person says, ‘That’s not what I wanted!’” Best said. “We get down in the area and explain.”

The rewrite primarily changes some of the restrictions on hoops the applicants have to jump through. One of the main targets for revision was a complex mathematical formula for addressing large lots brought into the local option zone, which has been simplified, according to a memo from assembly member Brent Johnson, who introduced the ordinance.

The borough assembly has introduced the code rewrite as an ordinance, which will come up for public hearing on Feb. 2. Assembly representative and Lands Committee Chair Stan Welles said the assembly has been concerned that some of the more recent zones have been put together for “punitive” purposes and is still debating options for the rewrite.

“We’ve had a spirited debate on this,” Welles said at the Jan. 5 assembly meeting. “It looks like we’re heading in a direction of being much more user friendly.”

Owners of large lots adjacent to a proposed local option zone may also petition the borough to be included, eliminating the math previously necessary. The normal maximum lot size is 5 acres, with a minimum of 40,000 square feet. Only 20 percent of the lot can be covered by structures.

The code increases the number of car trips to a particular parcel from 10 to 20 per day and removes the restriction on noise, vibration and other visible effects. Most businesses in local option zones still cannot use outdoors spaces, but the rewrite lifts that provision for adult or child day-care businesses or preschools. Only one nonresident is allowed to work on-site in any business.

The borough’s Marijuana Task Force has discussed local option zones as a potential method of giving residents control over the presence of marijuana businesses. Some have raised the concern that there will be a rush on local option zones to push out marijuana businesses, but Best said it doesn’t seem likely to him. It’s still a lot of work to get one going, he said.

“We’ve had this local option zone (option) out there for a long time,” Best said. “(Marijuana businesses) could be a catalyst, but I don’t know about a land rush on them.”

The borough assembly will discuss the code revision at its Feb. 2 meeting.

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

More in News

The badge for the Kenai Police Department (Clarion file)
Walmart briefly evacuated after bomb threat

The investigation is ongoing.

Peninsula Clarion file
Merry voices to fill Kenai chamber

Historical society carolling event returns after hiatus

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State officials urge vaccination as omicron spreads in US

Omicron was first identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
1 hunter dead, another missing after boat hits rough seas off Whittier

The pair were reportedly hunting on Wednesday on Esther Island in Prince William Sound.

Kenai City Council members James Baisden (left) and Deborah Sounart (right) listen as member Teea Winger (center) speaks in support of legislation opposing government COVID-19 mandates, during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, in Kenai.
Kenai council declares opposition to mask mandates

The statement does not change city code or supersede federal law.

Signage indicates that face masks are required for entry to the Soldotna Public Library on March 25, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to make mask-wearing optional in city facilities. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Masks recommended, not required in Soldotna city buildings

Council amends measure to make mask-wearing optional

Nick Begich III, seen here in this undated photo, is challenging Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives saying Alaska needs new energy in Washington D.C. (Courtesy photo / Alaskans for Nick Begich)
Nick Begich III touts fiscal conservatism in US House race

GOP candidate challenges Young’s record

Sockeye salmon. (Photo via Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Fish and Game seeks comment on 2022 sport fish stocking plan

The Sport Fish Division plans to release approximately 7 million fish into the Alaska water systems over the next five years.

A map shows which parts of the Chugach National Forest are open to motorized winter recreation use for the 2021-2022 season. (Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Parts of Chugach National Forest open to snowmachine use

The 2021-2022 winter motorized season will run through April 30.

Most Read