The Kenai City Council donated land at its Wednesday meeting for the housing group Kenai Housing Initiative to build two housing complexes — one for seniors, and another for low-income residents — though not the properties the group originally requested.
In May, the Kenai Housing Initiative, or KHI, asked the council to donate two city-owned properties for the projects. KHI is a Homer-based private not-for-profit organization that has constructed 109 units of housing for seniors, low-income, and special needs people since it starting building in 2003, though it has yet to develop a property in Kenai. Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said she and City Manager Rick Koch approached KHI Executive Director Steve Rouse about bringing low-income and senior housing to the city.
Their meeting resulted in Rouse’s request that Kenai donate approximately 2 acres on Redoubt Avenue for a six unit low-income housing building and 1.25 acres on Second Avenue for six housing units for those age 55 or older.
The council’s Wednesday donation gives the group conditional control over two lots, each 1.25 acres, on Redoubt — one for the senior housing and another for the low-income housing — placing the two projects adjacent to one another and leaving the Second Avenue property in city hands.
Before council member Henry Knackstedt introduced the plan to put both housing projects on the Redoubt property, the council rejected an ordinance to donate the Second Avenue property for senior housing. Council members Bob Molloy and Mike Boyle cast dissenting votes, favoring the Second Avenue location.
In a later interview, Boyle explained why he preferred having the senior housing on Second Avenue — a property located about a block north of a commercial center bordering the Kenai Spur Highway which contains a Salvation Army store, Katina’s Restaurant, Sharp’s Billiard hall, and Green Rush Events marijuana club.
“It’s closer to things,” Boyle said of the Second Avenue property. “You put it way out there on Redoubt Avenue, there’s nothing near there. Nothing within walking distance, so there’s an implied dependence on automobiles. Which may, for some of them, be a dependency on other people. But when it’s more centrally located, within walking distance there’s at least one restaurant, a furniture store, Salvation Army.”
Knackstedt said the city could lose value by donating the Second Avenue property.
“The Second Avenue one, I didn’t feel it was in the best interest of the city to donate that property,” Knackstedt said. “I felt it was in the best interest of the city to auction or sell it in some other way, rather than to donate it. It’s readily saleable property that the city really doesn’t have any interest in.”
Three Kenai residents who testified to the council against donating the Second Avenue property also favored selling it to raise revenue for the city. One of them was Daniel McKeirnan, owner of a property bordering the prospective Second Avenue donation. McKeirnan had made an offer to buy the donation property from the city on March 9 for $25,000. The Kenai Peninsula Borough assessed it at $32,000.
Although the council rejected McKeirnan’s offer in the May 18 closed session in which they also discussed the donations, Koch said the property was still available for purchase and that council members were considering holding a public bid on it.
Boyle, who in the past has advocated against selling the city’s commercial and airport land, that he’d have no opposition to selling the residential-zoned Second Avenue property.
“With city land in a residential zone, it’s fairly obvious what that’s to be used for,” Boyle said. “It’s not commercial, and it’s entirely impractical to lease out land somebody’s building a home on. So I draw that distinction. But where I have the objection to selling city land is where it’s within the airport reserve or commercial areas where the location is the prime attractiveness.”
McKeirnan said the accessibility benefits of the Second Avenue versus the Redoubt Avenue properties weren’t significant.
“It’s three quarters of a mile to a grocery, so I don’t think they could gain anything from being there or being out in Redoubt,” McKeirnan said. “They’re still going to have to have transportation.”
The two 1.25 acre lots on Redoubt were carved from a much larger piece of undeveloped city property — 77 wooded acres in a neighborhood of residential lots, some of which have houses, though many are vacant.
The closest commercial-zoned land is about a half mile away and contains a gas station, laundromat, storage unit, and automotive shops.
Redoubt Avenue is a wide road with few traffic stops, while Second Avenue is a smaller neighborhood street.
Knackstedt said this difference is one reason Redoubt is a better location for the senior housing.
“I think that for senior housing, the access was very good, perhaps superior to the Second Avenue one,” Knackstedt said of the Redoubt property. “You exit directly on to Redoubt Avenue, and then you’re directly on the highway. Whereas the other one is a bit more circuitous. I think it’s a part of town we’d like to see develop more, and this is a good start.”
The housing complexes on Redoubt may also prompt further residential construction on the large, empty city lot, Knackstedt said.
“Having a parcel like that, it occurs to me that the city ought to be starting to look at potential future development possibilities,” Knackstedt said. “Not that the city would do the development. I think of it as residential property there. If we had kind of a master plan for development there, it might make it more saleable. It’s probably something we should start looking for.”
Boyle judged the accessibility of the two properties differently than Knackstedt.
“For the elderly at Redoubt, you’re not walking anywhere,” Boyle said. “You may go for a walk, but that’s different than being able to walk somewhere … At Redoubt, what you’re going to end up with is simply the two complexes that are going to be side by side, and that’s what’s going to be there … But if the people doing the project are happy, I’m happy as well.”
The donation is not final — KHI has yet to accept it.
If it does so, the group’s ownership of the land will be contingent on it “providing proof of financing sufficient for the project,” according to the text of the donation ordinance. According to Rouse’s May 18 presentation to the city council, KHI plans to fund construction with grants and donations including a Senior Citizens Housing Development Grant from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.