The City of Kenai has acquired five parcels of foreclosed properties on Peninsula Avenue with the intent of using the lots as a staging area for the bluff erosion project.
The Kenai City Council Wednesday passed the ordinance after paying the balance of the unpaid property taxes to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Four of the lots have residences on the property, one of which is condemned and considered unlivable, said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.
The last owner of the properties, David Rohner had listed the parcels under First Baptist Church. Rohner had been involved in a couple lawsuits with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the City of Kenai over unpaid property taxes. According to Alaska court records, the City of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough both won lawsuits against Rohner that totaled $70,000 of outstanding property taxes.
Koch said their lawsuit with the owner had to do with code enforcement.
The city plans to notify the residents of the ownership change Friday and would assist the three tenants in finding another home. In the meantime the tenants no longer need to pay rent to their previous landlord or to the city, Koch said. Plans for that transition are not finalized yet, but Koch said they would give at least 90 days before the tenants had to move out.
“We don’t want anybody tossed out in the cold,” he said. “We will work with them on a case-by-case basis.”
Koch said eventually the buildings on the lots, which include two single-level houses and two trailers, would be demolished.
Attempts to contact the tenants of the five parcels at 600, 602, 604, 606 and 608 Peninsula Avenue were unsuccessful.
According to the ordinance, on Aug. 29, the City of Kenai paid the outstanding balance for property taxes in the amount of $8,175.25, of which $4,788.17 went to borough taxes and interest and the remaining $3,387.08 relates to Kenai taxes.
Once the payment had been received, the borough then deeded the property back to Kenai. With the ordinance now adopted, the right of the previous owner, Rohner, to repurchase the property ceases, according to the memo.
The borough had owned the properties the last six months, Koch said.
The Kenai City Council previously retained the same properties after obtaining a clerk’s deed from the borough in 2009, according to a memo from Koch. However, Rohner, the previous owner, repurchased the property back.
The council passed the ordinance by a 5-2 vote. Vice Mayor Ryan Marquis and council member Terry Bookey voted no. Bookey said he didn’t like the idea of the city purchasing property where residents still live.
“I trust we will help the people find new homes,” he said. “But in the meantime we just became landlords.”
Koch said the area is a good space to access the beach and would be used in future bluff erosion control measures. A creek runs through the area and down to the beach, but he said the city didn’t want to use the creek to access the beach.
“It will give us an access to a majority of the project without crossing active streams,” he said.
The city has an agreement with the Department of the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a feasibility study for the Kenai River bluff erosion project. The study is to determine the construction needed to halt the erosion and stabilize the bluff in Old Town that has eroded at an estimated 3 feet per year and caused loss of public and private lands and buildings, according to a 2011 City of Kenai resolution. An apartment building at 603 Peninsula Avenue, which is on the bluff side, wasn’t part of the land acquisition.
Koch said after the bluff stabilization project is completed down the road, the properties could turn into park space or a coastal trail.
“We are a ways off before we get any pie-in-the-sky ideas,” he said.