An ordinance establishing rules and standards for residents who wish to create gated communities and private streets within the borough was reconsidered, amended and passed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday.
Under the ordinance, residents and property developers could apply to set up a private street or subdivision. The ordinance lays out how they can accomplish that and the rules they need to follow. The ordinance includes new codes for developments, such as requiring that property owners create a turnaround for cars at the gate. Property owners would also be required to maintain the roadway themselves and ensure that emergency services have access to the area.
Versions of the ordinance have been on and off the assembly agenda since October 2019. The assembly supported the measure five to four at the April 21 meeting, however, assembly member Willy Dunne asked that the ordinance be reconsidered. The assembly passed the updated ordinance on Tuesday, six to three, with assembly members Hal Smalley, Kelly Cooper and Dunne opposing. There was no public comment on the reconsideration of the ordinance.
Previously, there were no designated standards, requirements or procedures to create subdivisions, private streets or gated communities in borough code, according to the ordinance. The ordinance’s goal is to establish policies and guidance that “minimize land use conflicts, maintain property values, protect natural systems and support individual land use freedoms.”
Some private communities already exist within the borough, including in the Kenai Keys area. Mayor Charlie Pierce said at the April 21 meeting that the subdivision has existed for “15 to 20 years now,” and that emergency responders have access to the area. Pierce argued for the ordinance, and said he was “really surprised to see there was so much effort to block” the measure.
Pierce said he thinks the ordinance is long overdue. However, other assembly members shared concerns about public property rights, and losing access to publicly owned roads — which may have cultural and historical significance to residents in the area — to developers.
At Tuesday’s meeting, assembly member Brent Johnson amended the ordinance to help alleviate concerns about losing public access to developers seeking to privatize a subdivision. The amendment requires that anyone looking to change a public roadway to private property must gather unanimous approval from any property owners living within 600 feet of the road’s boundary. Johnson said he chose 600 feet because it’s a “common distance in surveying.”
The ordinance, originally introduced in October, came about after controversy broke out at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission — when country musician Zac Brown tried to vacate a pedestrian section line easement running through his property that residents in the area claimed they’ve been using as a trail for decades.
Pierce spoke about Brown’s struggle for privacy at Tuesday’s meeting, and said the ordinance would give the borough the ability to “administer” requests from residents like Brown, to privatize their neighborhoods.
“A unique individual came into our community, had some notoriety, wanted some privacy, had the money to go in and buy over a hundred acres of land to give him some certainty to that privacy,” Pierce said. “You mention a section line — I, too, question why someone would buy a hundred acres of land and have a section line going through it. I would probably have picked a different location. Nevertheless when you come to town you have friends who welcome you into Homer — you hear it’s a very peaceful and accepting place to live. I think this individual would give a description contrary to that situation.”