Kenai planning and zoning commission passes comprehensive plan

The Kenai City Council’s vote is now the last requirement before the city’s new comprehensive plan becomes final, following the draft plan’s unanimous approval from Kenai Planning and Zoning commissioners at their Wednesday meeting.

Kenai’s comprehensive plan, a state-required document that sets legal land uses and outlines a city’s intended development, was last updated in 2003, though a controversial draft update in 2013 was rejected by a 580-221 popular vote.

The present revision, using the rejected 2013 plan as a starting draft, includes updated demographic and economic information about Kenai, as well as land use changes discussed by city staff and planning and zoning commissioners at a June 23 work session. The materials of Wednesday’s meeting included a table of 19 such changes to Kenai’s land-use designations.

As in past comprehensive plan meetings, city officials such as Kenai City Planner Matt Kelley were careful to point out that land-use designations are not zoning. Unlike zoning, land uses don’t specify exactly which establishments can and can’t occupy an area, but rather state an area’s purpose to guide potential future re-zoning.

In seven cases, areas the 2003 plan gives fully or partially to residential uses were changed to designations allowing commercial use in the plan passed Wednesday. In all but one of these cases, the change is to a mixed-use designation, “intended for a compatible mix of residential, retail, service, office, public, institutional, and recreational uses,” according to the 2016 draft comprehension plan.

Critics of the plan in 2013 claimed mixed-use designations promote commercialization of previously residential areas. In the 2003 land-use plan, Kenai’s mixed-use area was concentrated in Old Town and the Main Street Loop area. The rejected 2013 plan would have expanded it to land bordering the Kenai Spur Highway. The draft 2016 plan creates mixed-use designations in presently residential-designated areas along the Spur between Forest and Redoubt Drives and along the Spur highway east of its intersection with Beaver Loop Road.

Other mixed-use areas that would have been created by the 2013 plan are designated otherwise in the draft 2016 plan. Spur-side lots in the neighborhoods around Kenai Central High School and Kenai Middle school — known as MAPS, an acronym formed from the local street names of Magic, Aliak, Princess and the Spur Highway — will remain residential. So the western side of the Spur Highway south of Shell Drive, a right-of-way that exists on official maps, but is not an actual street.

The Spur-side parcel referred to as Lawton Acres — a vacant lot presently occupied by the Kenai Flower Field and the subject of controversial commercial development plans since 1985 — is designated as “Parks, Recreation, and Open Space” in the draft 2016 plan. It would have been mixed-use under the 2013 plan.

Laura Sievert, a Beaver Loop resident who had collected signatures against the 2013 plan, spoke against the draft 2016 plan, saying she was concerned about “sprawl down the Spur.”

Responding to Sievert, Planning and Zoning Chairman Jeff Twait explained the rationale for the Spur-side mixed-use designation east of the Beaver Loop intersection.

“The zone already is limited commercial for some of the parcels that are along there,” Twait said. “So what the goal is, is to tie a land use that’s similar to what the zoning is … In other areas, too, we’ve made changes to the land use so it follows more accurately what the zoning is, to make the land use and zoning similar.”

All Spur-side lots between Fern Street (which intersects with the Spur on official maps, though not in reality) and Shell Drive are zoned limited commercial; properties south of Shell Drive are zoned rural residential except for two limited commercial lots. Kristine Schmidt, a Kenai attorney and previous critic of 2013 and 2016 comprehensive plans, said the principal of matching land-use designations to existing zones, a goal Twait described as “more of a house-keeping thing,” had been selectively applied.

“What I saw you doing in all your meetings was sort of arbitrary, an arbitrary rule that wherever it was zoned residential and you felt like changing it to a commercial designation on this map — or a more commercial designation, like mixed-use — you sort of threw out the zone and said ‘eh, who cares?’” Schmidt said.

In response to the three speakers from the public — Schmidt, Sievert and Kelly Kelso, who said they hadn’t had time to fully examine changes to the new plan draft prior to the meeting — Twait discussed possibly postponing the vote to allow another hearing on the plan.

Since revision began with a public meeting in March, the plan has been subject to four town hall meetings and three planning and zoning work sessions. No motion was made for postponement, and the plan was unanimously approved without amendments.

Kelley said he intends to introduce it as an ordinance to the Kenai City Council, which would debate and vote on it at their meeting on August 17.

 

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

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