Kenai to decide housing disagreement

Members of the Kenai City Council will decide a dispute over a proposed housing development in Kenai’s Thompson Park subdivision.

A March 23 meeting of the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission brought two changes to Thompson Park, a rural residential neighborhood branching from the Kenai Spur Highway near the edge of town. At that meeting, Planning and Zoning commissioners not only considered an ultimately successful permit bid for a marijuana store by the Spur but also issued a variance allowing the construction of a four-family housing complex, or four-plex, within the area. Thompson Park residents appeared at the meeting testifying against both additions to the neighborhood and have now appealed to reverse the four-plex decision, saying it would change the character of the place.

Kenai residents Jessica and Kevin Stearns bought a currently vacant property of approximately 18,295 square feet in Thompson Park for the planned four-plex. In their application for the variance, submitted in February, the Stearns wrote that the property was subdivided to its current size in 1965, before the requirement that disallows four-plexes on lots of less than 20,000 square feet. Although the rural residential zoning of Thompson Park allows multi-family housing of up to four units, the lots subdivided in the 1960s don’t meet the present minimum size for such complexes.

The Stearns wrote in their application that “without a variance (to the size requirement), these lots are essentially useless.” Kenai Planner Matt Kelley agreed, writing in his report that granting the variance is consistent with city code granting variances “when the literal enforcement (of code) would deprive a property owner of the reasonable use of his real property.”

Thompson Park resident Tom Wagoner made the appeal to reverse the decision. Wagoner and the eight other Thompson Park residents who testified at the May 16 appeal hearing said they were concerned the four-plex would bring short-term residents, whom many referred to as “transients,” to the neighborhood.

Thompson Park resident Sid Heron said his trepidation was compounded by the marijuana shop, Red Run Cannabis Company, expected to open nearby around September.

“My main concern is due to the transient people that will come in there,” Heron said. “I’m retired law enforcement, and my response to these types of buildings, what disturbs me, is what we’re going to get with the possibility of a marijuana shop going in at the end of that street, as to what the transient population would be in that outlet.”

In her testimony, Thompson Park resident Dorothy Ayers listed reasons she opposed the development, in addition to “transients.”

“I’m also concerned with the extra vehicle traffic,” Ayers said. “I’m also concerned with the safety of the children who play in the streets, ride their bikes, et cetera. I’m also concerned with the possibility of extra dogs in the area running around. I’m also concerned about a trash buildup … And also I’m concerned about the possibility of fires. There seems to be a lot of fires that occur in duplexes and four-plexes and apartments as opposed to single-family dwellings. And also the noise. These will be young people and there will be parties. We live in a very quiet neighborhood.”

A sharp curve on Lupine Drive, a street leading to the development’s prospective site, was also cited by some residents who feared extra traffic around it would be dangerous for children who play on the street.

Wagoner said the variance was unreasonable because the property — which is short of the 20,000 square foot requirement by 1,705 square feet, or 9.3 percent — was too small for the development.

“Building a four-plex on this piece of property is like forcing a size 15 foot into a size 9 shoe,” Wagoner said. “It just don’t fit, folks. Contrary to popular belief, it’s pretty tough to do.”

According to Kelly’s report to the Planning and Zoning Commission, 12 of the 35 houses in Thompson Park are larger than the requirements designated by Kenai zoning rules for their lot size due to the subdivision’s history, which predates the zoning requirements.

The Stearns are the current owners and landlords of a four-plex on Tinker Lane, in which they live. Kevin Stearns said they are seeking to own and manage the new housing for between 37 and 40 years.

He said the couple hadn’t originally known they were buying an undersized property, but had gotten incorrect information about the zoning requirement from Kenai Planning Assistant Wilma “Willie” Anderson. Responding to the objections of neighborhood residents, Jessica Stearns described many of their comments as “emotional responses to fear.”

“A lot of what I’ve heard from people, it sounds like a lot of speculation and a lot of stereotypes that I’m concerned about,” Jessica Stearns said. “… People are afraid that there’s going to be a transient population, and there’s going to be drugs, and there’s going to be reckless drivers and things of that nature. I think those are unrealistic fears, and I think they’re stereotyping a group of people — they’re saying that anyone that lives in a four-plex is a criminal, a delinquent. They drive their car fast, they don’t care about children, they’re going to move frequently. That’s just not true.”

Kenai City Council members, acting as a board of adjustment, will decide the question within 22 days.

 

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

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