Members of the Kenai City Council participate in a council meeting on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai City Council participate in a council meeting on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Boys and girls clubs land donation postponed

The issue will be back before the body on June 1

The Kenai City Council is waiting to get input from the city’s planning and zoning commissioners before it decides whether to donate a piece of land on Spruce Street to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, which are looking to expand. The council heard hours of testimony on the issue at its May 18 meeting, where an ordinance donating a chunk of city land for the initiative was up for consideration, before ultimately voting to postpone the vote until June 1.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula Board President Jeff Dolifka formally requested the land donation during the council’s April 6 meeting, where council members generally agreed that they support the clubs, but would like to know more about the project. The group currently operates out of a building on Frontage Road, but has its sights set on the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center, which is closing at the end of June.

Soldotna resident Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who is the treasurer of the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center group, said the center has been approached by multiple groups about purchasing the property, but that the center felt the boys and girls clubs would benefit area youth the most.

“What we looked at was who was going to benefit the children in the area the most, and it was the boys and girls club,” Farnsworth-Hutchings said. “This is just something that, you know, we give back to you. That’s what we feel we need to do.”

The clubs hope to purchase the Care Center property off Spruce Street and have asked the city to donate a parcel of land to the south. During his pitch to the council in April, Dolifka said taking over the Care Center property means the boys and girls clubs would not need to construct new facilities and could stay in Kenai.

Those who said the ordinance should be approved last week said council has final authority to approve land donations, while those opposed said two weeks wouldn’t make a significant difference while the ordinance is reconsidered by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The commission opted to postpone consideration of the ordinance donating the land during its meeting on May 11 and requested additional information from the boys and girls clubs, including conceptual drawings. That’s per a May 12 memo from Kenai Planning Director Ryan Foster to council members, in which he wrote consideration had been postponed to May 25.

Former Kenai City Council member and Planning and Zoning commissioner Tim Navarre urged council members to pass the ordinance that evening. It’s not unprecedented for the Planning and Zoning Commission to not make a recommendation, Navarre said, and the council has the option to call a special meeting if they wanted to wait until after the commission meets again.

“(Planning and Zoning commissioners) don’t get to hold up the body of the council by making a decision,” Navarre said. “ … Their role is not to say whether you should give the land or not. That’s your decision.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula plan to apply for a Tier 2 grant for the expansion effort through the Rasmuson Foundation, an Anchorage-based group that seeks to “promote a better life for Alaskans” by awarding grants to nonprofit groups.

Mike Navarre, who serves on both the board of the Rasmuson Foundation and board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, told council members that he has already “primed” the Rasmuson board about the grant the boys and girls clubs plan to apply for. Navarre, who is Tim Navarre’s brother, said a two-week delay would “crunch” the grant timeframe, but not harm the process.

“I don’t think a two-week delay harms this to the extent that we can’t go forward,” Navarre said.

Kenai Vice Mayor Jim Glendening maintained throughout the meeting that council members “don’t know what (they) don’t know” throughout the meeting and said a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission is an important part of the public process.

“I believe the process will be served (and) the confidence of the people in this community will be bolstered by allowing planning and zoning to look at it,” Glendening said.

Planning and Zoning Vice Chair Alex Douthit said during the Wednesday council meeting that only four commissioners were able to vote on the issue when it came before them at their May 11 meeting — three were absent and one declared a conflict of interest. Douthit also said the commissioners were not given a copy of the presentation Dolifka gave to the city council in April.

“It was decided that we postpone until we get, hopefully, more of our members present to vote (and so that) a fair and equitable presentation can be made,” Douthit said. “The boys and girls club didn’t realize they needed to have the packet for us, apparently, and we didn’t have the packet at the time. Neither side really was prepared to be able to move on with making a good decision, we felt, so that’s why we postponed the meeting.”

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom told council members that the “safest” option from a legal perspective would be to let the planning and zoning commissioners make a recommendation before the council acts.

“The safest path forward would be to let (Planning and Zoning) have another bite at the apple and then make a decision,” Bloom said.

The council voted 5-2 to postpone the ordinance. Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel told attendees at Wednesday’s meeting that he is “not very happy” about the decision to postpone, but that it’s clear council members are in agreement about ultimately supporting the donation of city land to the boys and girls clubs.

The Kenai City Council’s full meeting can be streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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

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