A vision plan prepared by McKinley Research Group shows potential uses of waterfront space identified as a priority for revitalization. (Plan via City of Kenai)

A vision plan prepared by McKinley Research Group shows potential uses of waterfront space identified as a priority for revitalization. (Plan via City of Kenai)

Kenai to hire temporary planner to assist with waterfront revitalization

The city during the summer of 2021 began brainstorming ways to revitalize the City of Kenai’s waterfront

The City of Kenai will hire a temporary planner to help advance the city’s plan for a revitalized waterfront following city council approval of the move last week.

In all, the council approved the use of $13,750 from the city’s general fund for the position. Whoever is hired will help the city create a new zoning district for the 160 acres of land between the city dock and Millennium Square, which the city has identified as the revitalization project area.

The city during the summer of 2021 began brainstorming ways to revitalize the City of Kenai’s waterfront, which then-City Manager Paul Ostrander called “untapped potential.” The city that fall awarded $95,000 to McKinley Research Group LLC for a study of how feasible revitalization of that area would be.

The firm held a public meeting last year and published a 74-page report summarizing the feedback received from attendees and their recommendations for the city moving forward.

“Based on information gathered at the Vision Work Session and following meetings, the study team found that the community of Kenai supports new development in the project area but conveyed that it should not be at the expense of impacting existing uses, primarily seafood plant operation and the ability to access the Kenai River and its resources,” the report says.

Now, the City of Kenai is ready to take the next step by rezoning that area as a new waterfront zoning district. A document provided to council members ahead of last week’s vote outlines the steps the city still needs to take before that rezone can happen, such as a review of the area’s existing conditions, updates to the city’s zoning code and organizing community meetings.

Currently, the project area is zoned as “heavy industrial” and includes about 160 acres of both city- and privately-owned properties. In their report, McKinley Research Group suggested that the city consider implementing such a zone that could accommodate multiple types of uses and “create clarity” on the city’s vision for the area.

“This zone could be labeled ‘Working Waterfront’ which supports activities that range from seafood processing, housing, commercial, and open space that derive an economic or social benefit from a waterfront location,” the report says. “These uses would relate with commercial/economic enterprises, tourism, or recreation.”

Council member Henry Knackstedt, who sponsored the ordinance passed by council members last week, wrote in a July 21 memo that a temporary planner was needed because of setbacks the revitalization project has faced in response to staffing shortages in the department.

“Staffing shortages in the Planning Department have hindered its ability to move forward with a project to rezone the waterfront area,” Knackstedt wrote. “Completion of the rezone project in 2023 will ensure future development in the 2024 construction season and beyond are consistent with the community’s vision and proposed land uses.”

A rezone of the waterfront area, Knackstedt said, is needed to ensure that future development in the area is consistent with the community’s vision for a revitalized waterfront.

Ultimately, though, planning and zoning is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to revitalizing the city’s waterfront. The plan prepared by McKinley Research Group estimates it would cost roughly $73.7 million for the City of Kenai to implement the “preferred concept” plan detailed in the report, which involves the greatest build-out.

That price tag includes new roads and parking lots, extension of city utilities, day-use shelters, a paved pedestrian path and boardwalk, a $1.17 million nature center and a $19.5 million civic center. The firm notes that there are limits to trying to estimate such a cost, and that the final dollar amount can vary greatly.

More information about the Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project can be found on the city’s website at kenai.city.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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