Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at a joint work session at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at a joint work session at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai to unveil interactive map of available land

The total acreage of all land owned by the City of Kenai is roughly the same size as the City of Soldotna.

Land available for purchase and lease in the City of Kenai will soon be viewable on an interactive map being built as part of Kenai’s development of a land management plan for the city — a resource that has been years in the making.

The issue brought city council members, administrators and commissioners together Monday night at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, where Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander formally presented the draft plan for the first time.

“I’m excited that we’re all here tonight,” Ostrander said. “It’s been about three and a half years of effort to get to where we are now.”

Development of a land management plan for the city is the result of a 2018 vote by the Kenai City Council in support of a “city-wide approach” to land management. In all, the city has 369 subdivided parcels that cover 5,540 of land. A significant chunk of those parcels — almost 2,000 acres’ worth — were acquired from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1963.

The total acreage of all land owned by the City of Kenai, for comparison, is roughly the same size as the City of Soldotna at about 8.5 square miles.

Under the management plan, the chunks of city land are designated for retention, disposal, lease-only disposal or mixed. Disposal land designated as lease only refers to land that the city is interested in leasing, but that cannot be sold. Mixed parcels refer to land that can be subdivided into pieces to be sold.

Ostrander demonstrated how the city’s new GIS, or geographic information system, software works. The site shows users an overview of the city and allows them to toggle city and parcel boundaries and to filter parcels shown by classification and size. Additional filters show a parcel’s proximity to city and water sewer lines, as well as topography and location relative to wetlands.

The creation of a database for city land, Ostrander said, is a major accomplishment.

“Before, we didn’t know a whole lot about what we had,” Ostrander said. “Now, we have a much better understanding. This is a significant step forward for the city.”

Also shown through the new GIS software is what fund the parcel belongs to. All city parcels either belong to the city’s airport or general fund, meaning when those parcels are leased or sold the money is deposited into one of those funds. Roughly one-third of the city’s airport fund lands — which generate more than $500,000 annually — are currently being used, while just 8.75% of the city’s general fund lands — which generate almost $220,000 annually — are being used.

Ostrander said city code requires parcels of city land to be appraised prior to being sold, but the GIS software will also show the land value as assessed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

One of the key benefits the new system will bring to the city, Ostrander said, will be seen in the turnaround time inquiries take at the planning department level. He used as an example a recent request from Triumvirate Theatre. The group’s former theater burned down earlier this year, and the Kenai City Council voted to donate a piece of city land for the company’s rebuilding efforts.

Triumvirate prepared a list of criteria needed at a new theater site and the Kenai Planning Department prepared a list of parcels that met those criteria. The process took about three days. With the new database, Ostrander said, the same request would take about 30 minutes.

That expedited process, Ostrander said, will be of particular benefit for people looking to start a business in Kenai, because it will be easier for people to find land that meets their needs.

“If someone’s putting together a business plan and they want to locate their business in the City of Kenai, this is the tool we want to provide to the public online,” Ostrander said.

While the GIS software hasn’t officially launched yet, Ostrander said the city’s plan is to make it available as soon as possible. In contrast, honing the land management plan will be a longer process.

The city is encouraging members of the public, in addition to people affiliated with the City of Kenai, to submit feedback on the draft plan as it is developed over the next several months. The public will have an opportunity to testify on the plan once it has been reviewed by city commissions and brought before the city council. That is expected to happen toward the end of the year.

In addition to submitting written comments on the plan, people can also submit comments on the city’s website at kenai.city/lands/page/land-management-plan. The full draft land management plan can also be found on the city’s website.

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

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