Kenai funds comprehensive plan

The city of Kenai will put $44,300 toward the creation of its new comprehensive plan, including $15,000 to hire planing consultant Elizabeth Benson of Anchorage-based Benson Planning Associates to carry out the revision.

An ordinance passed by the Kenai City Council at its Wednesday meeting appropriated $30,000 to the existing $14,400 of comprehensive plan project funding. The ordinance passed unanimously, with council member Terry Bookey absent from the meeting.

Kenai’s current comprehensive plan, a document meant to direct future city land-use decisions, was created in 2003 and last revised in 2013. The 2013 draft was approved by the city council but rejected by voters in a ballot proposition. Opponents of the plan said it promoted sprawling development that would threaten the character of residential neighborhoods. The 2013 plan will be used as a draft for the present revision.

Benson’s proposed work plan, given in a Jan. 28 letter to City Manager Rick Koch, estimates the revision will take 128 hours. Her attendance at five meetings in support of the plan will take 42 hours, totalling 170 hours for which she will be compensated at $80 per hour. Her visits to Kenai will consist of three public meetings and two with the Kenai planning and zoning commission. She wrote that her work on the plan revision would completed on July 31, 2016.

Council member Bob Molloy said he considered the funds appropriated in the ordinance inadequate.

“Part of that is because my views of this are different from the administration’s,” Molloy said. “This is really based on the approach of tweaking the existing (2013) plan, instead of reopening this and having some new items, which I think is supported by the comments were received during the public comment period.”

Molloy said he “would encourage a more flexible approach that’s going to require some more funding.” He also described Benson’s breakdown of her proposed work as “bare bones.”

“There isn’t really isn’t even much interaction with the planning and zoning commission,” Molloy said.

Molloy recommended additional funding of the comprehensive plan in the future, and amended to the ordinance to reflect this possibility by replacing a reference to $44,300 as the revision’s “total project budget” with a designation of the amount as the “current project budget.” The amendment passed unanimously.

Council member Tim Navarre said the city had spent $150,000 developing the 2013 draft of the comprehensive plan, and reiterated his position that it was acceptable as a draft for a present revision because not all its elements were controversial.

“I look forward to starting back on this plan,” Navarre said. “I think it benefits the city, and I don’t think it benefits the city to spend another $150,000.”

Council member Henry Knackstedt asked Koch if he believed Benson’s work plan should “substantially cover the work that needs to be done.” Koch said he did, adding that much of the document was made of information that hadn’t changed since 2013.

“The comp plan that went before the voters and was rejected was comprised of six chapters, and a rather large appendix that was a collection of data,” Koch said. “The first four chapters of the plan were pretty technical recitals. Some portions of those chapters speak to the purpose of the comp plan. There’s the history of Kenai, there’s demographic information and population information. … Regardless of what’s in the subsequent chapters five and six, the first four chapters are going to look the same.”

Kenai resident Bob MacIntosh spoke on the funding ordinance, saying it “locks into what I see as a flawed process with the comprehensive plan.”

“It was a process that was designed by the city without public input, as far as I know, and once the process is funded the city will steamroll the process through, again doing it the way they did last time,” Macintosh said. “… We should start our process the other direction,”

MacIntosh said he were prefer to create “a citizen’s committee to oversee the process.” Questioned by Molloy, he elaborated on this idea, describing a group consisting of five Kenai resident volunteers chosen randomly from a pool of applicants, as well as a representative of local realtors and a Kenai Chamber of Commerce representative speaking for local business owners. The Kenai city planner and a member each of the Kenai council and planning and zoning commissions would hold advisory seats. He said the group would “monitor the whole process, and if they thought the process was getting out of hand, they’d let the public know.”

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

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