Kenai city planner to return south

In summer 2014 Matt Kelley came from a county planner’s office in California to become Kenai’s city planner. In February he’ll be returning to county-level planning in California.

Kelley, who has lead prospective developers through the city planning department’s approval process for three years, will have his last day at Kenai city hall on Feb. 7 before he and his wife move closer to family.

“I’ve got to work with a lot of good people here at the city, at the borough, and statewide,” Kelley said. “It’s been enjoyable. We’re definitely going to miss it.”

Kelley, a native of the San Francisco Bay area who worked as a planner for three northern California county governments before coming to Kenai, will be working soon as a planner for California’s Nevada County — population 98,764 as of the 2010 census.

One particular experience in Kenai gives him a foretaste of what may be coming in his new job: as Kenai was creating municipal regulations for the newly-legal cannabis business in January 2016, Kelley kept track of how four cannabis business types would be allowed or disallowed across the 16 zoning districts of Kenai’s land use table. He’s since compiled several reports for the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission on the city’s first legal marijuana establishments.

In California, he’ll likely be dealing with more cannabis industry permitting — recreational marijuana became legal in California on the first of this month, and one research firm has predicted cannabis sales there could reach $3.7 billion by the end of the year. In early January a 16-member panel began drafting marijuana regulations for Nevada County, according to the local newspaper The Union.

Kelley’s previous experiences in California also translated well to Kenai, he said. His last job before heading north was as a coastal planner for Mendocino County, California. Both regions, he said, “have high bluffs, both tidal-influenced, and you have development that’s right on the bluff, so you have similar things like bluff stabilization, and bluff setbacks are a big thing, here and there — how far back you’re going to build the house from the bluff based on bluff retreat.”

Though California’s statewide coastal zone and dedicated permit for coastal construction don’t have analogs in Alaska, Kelley said he dealt with similar issues in Kenai’s coastal erosion work. Soon after his arrival, a proposal for the Shoreline Heights subdivision, on the Cook Inlet bluff-top of northwest Kenai, was just appearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission. Coastal issues such as erosion also appeared in the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s more recent city application to expand the Eagle Rock boat launch, he said.

For the most part, Kelley said, the work he did in California and the work he did in Kenai — measuring proposed development against city code and writing staff reports for the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission’s permitting decisions — weren’t so different.

“Planning is unique in that wherever you are as a planner it’s kind of similar: you have zoning codes, you’ve got a comprehensive plan, and how you go about implementing those is the same wherever you’re at,” Kelley said. “I don’t think there are major differences.”

Outside of work, Kelley said one memory he’ll take from the peninsula is his arrival in July 2014 — after he and his wife spent six or seven days driving up the Alaska Highway in a U-Haul truck, they got to town right in the middle of that summer’s personal use dip net fishery.

“We had never seen something like that before, so it was interesting to learn about it, and to participate once we became residents,” Kelley said. “Being from California, there’s nothing like that.”

Reach Ben Boettger at benjamin.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read