Map via RESPEC.

Map via RESPEC.

Borough mulls plans for bypass parcel

The 1,000-acre Juneau Bench, or Unit 395, is located north of the Sterling Highway

Housing developments and more recreational opportunities are among the uses the Kenai Peninsula Borough is considering for a 1,000-acre parcel located west of Cooper Landing.

That piece of land, called the Juneau Bench or Unit 395, is located north of the Sterling Highway. The area will be bisected by part of the Cooper Landing Bypass Project, which aims to reduce congestion and improve safety on the Sterling Highway through Cooper Landing.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved last year the use of about $200,000 for land planning services and hired RESPEC Company, LLC, one of the borough’s project consultants. Other firms consulting on the work are Corvus Design, Information Insights, Northern Economics and ABR, Inc.

Project contact Pat Cotter presented the designs alongside Kenai Peninsula Borough Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller to the borough Planning Commission on Feb. 3 and to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Feb. 21.

An overview of potential long-term development for the project includes 39 residential parcels, four day-use areas, extraction areas, trailhead parking and gravel roads, among other things. Roughly half of the total area falls within the Sqilantnu Archaeological District, which Cotter said project leads are trying to be considerate of.

Some community members in Cooper Landing oppose development in Unit 395 and, specifically, access points to the parcel from the Sterling Highway bypass. Concerns range from fears that a new town will rise up around the bypass in that area, to worries that new development will strain Cooper Landing’s already limited local maintenance crews.

Cotter told the borough that RESPEC has held multiple public meetings in Cooper Landing, which they’ve made interactive as a way to boost public feedback. Community members have voiced a need for more affordable housing in Cooper Landing, he said, but they’ve also heard that residents don’t necessarily want Unit 395 to be used for housing.

“We’re not taking anything off the table, but we are kind of leaning more towards the recreational slant for some of this development,” Cotter told assembly members.

A “preferred plan” presented to Cooper Landing community members last week shows the Resurrection Pass trail curving around the southeast portion of the parcel, as well as about 4 miles of new trails. An additional trail would connect Unit 395 to existing ski and equestrian trails. A wildlife corridor would move through the northwest corner of the parcel.

Assembly member Richard Derkevorkian, who represents Kenai, said during the Feb. 21 finance committee meeting that the borough should be cautious about developing an area that is entirely surrounded by federally owned land.

“The Chugach National Forest encompasses 5.5 million acres that’s likely never going to be developed on the Kenai Peninsula,” Derkevorkian said.

Per a timeline presented last week by RESPEC, approval of planning documents by assembly members is tentatively scheduled for May, with publication of plan documents tentatively scheduled for the end of May or early June.

More information about development of Unit 395 can be found on the project website at unit395planning.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Areas cleared to make way for the Cooper Landing Bypass Project (bottom) can be seen above the Kenai River in Cooper Landing in this August 10, 2021, photo. (Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion file)

Areas cleared to make way for the Cooper Landing Bypass Project (bottom) can be seen above the Kenai River in Cooper Landing in this August 10, 2021, photo. (Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion file)

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