To avoid being defined as junk, vehicles in Kenai now need to meet conditions including having registration within the past six months.
Although the Kenai code has regulated junk cars since its creation in 1984, Kenai city planner Matt Kelley said in a July 2015 interview that these provisions were difficult to enforce and inadequately defined “junk cars.” That month Kelley, Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, and other city administrators wrote recommendations for new code to fix these problems. After being debated and modified by the administration, the planning and zoning commission, and city council, that code was passed by a 4-2 vote at Wednesday’s council meeting. Council member Terry Bookey was absent from the voting.
According to Kenai Planning Department records, there have been 18 cases under the junk vehicle code since 2012. Because owners removed the vehicles before the city took action, no citations were issued in those cases. There is at least one case of Kenai impounding cars from private property — Gus and Janice Rodes, who were prosecuted by Kenai in 2010 over code-violating cars on their Birch Street property. Thirteen cars were impounded from their property, according to a Feb. 2013 district court order in favor of Kenai.
The code at that time provided six conditions for defining a vehicle as junk, which included requiring repairs beyond the vehicle’s market value, missing more than two tires, an essential engine component, or having “a substantial amount of broken or missing glass.”
The new code likewise designates a vehicle junk if it meets two of six conditions. One major difference is the condition requiring the vehicle to be registered.
Initially the ordinance referred to a vehicle “not currently registered,” but after council negotiation it was changed to a vehicle that has not been registered within the previous six months.
“I think the registration really has to do with — sometimes people really are in difficult financial straits, so they could have an unregistered vehicle that has a window out and is currently not operating,” said council member Bob Molloy, who proposed eliminating the registration requirement. “I wouldn’t really see that as a junk vehicle.”
Council member Mike Boyle agreed, calling the registration condition his “one big issue” with the ordinance and saying it was “overly restrictive and totally unnecessary.”
Kenai mayor Pat Porter supported the registration condition, saying that because a second condition would be required for a vehicle to be defined as junk, the registration condition would only catch vehicles she would consider junk anyway.
“If that’s the only thing causing them to be a junk vehicle, that wouldn’t fly,” Porter said. “If that’s the only reason it’s sitting there, because they’re unable to register it, and it’s in good condition otherwise, it (the registration condition) isn’t going to matter.”
Council member Brian Gabriel offered a compromise on the issue, suggesting that the condition be changed to vehicles that haven’t been registered in the past six months. The compromise amendment passed with Boyle and Molloy voting against it.
The new code also includes a provision for storing junk vehicles, allowing them to reside in a yard with 2000 square feet per vehicle, or covered with a car cover. It also allows junk vehicles to be repaired out of public view.
An additional prohibited category is also defined in the new code: “abandoned vehicles” that have been left unattended in public property for over 48 hours.
This category was implied but not explicitly defined in the old code, which set 72 hours as the time limit for leaving a vehicle on public property. The time period changed by an amendment introduced by council member Henry Knackstedt and passed with council members Boyle and Molloy voting against it.
After being amended, the ordinance was passed with Molloy and Boyle voting against it.
More junk vehicle debates lie in Kenai’s future. On Dec. 9, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a worksession on abandoned mobile homes.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.