This map of the city-owned wooded strip between the Kenai Spur Highway and Lawton Drive shows Kenai city manager Paul Ostrander's compromise in a land use debate between residents to the south seeking to preserve the strip as a buffer from the highway and business owners who've sought to develop it. Under Ostrander's plan, which the Kenai city council will discuss in a May 15 worksession, the blue areas would remain in city ownership while the yellow areas would be put out to bid for private acquisition. This map was taken from the Kenai Peninsula Borough's parcel viewer and modified by the Peninsula Clarion with information from the Kenai City Council.

This map of the city-owned wooded strip between the Kenai Spur Highway and Lawton Drive shows Kenai city manager Paul Ostrander's compromise in a land use debate between residents to the south seeking to preserve the strip as a buffer from the highway and business owners who've sought to develop it. Under Ostrander's plan, which the Kenai city council will discuss in a May 15 worksession, the blue areas would remain in city ownership while the yellow areas would be put out to bid for private acquisition. This map was taken from the Kenai Peninsula Borough's parcel viewer and modified by the Peninsula Clarion with information from the Kenai City Council.

Lawton Acres plan to be discussed

The 30-year debate over Kenai’s Lawton Acres — a wooded city-owned strip by the Kenai Spur Highway that business owners have sought to develop and nearby residents have sought to preserve as a buffer between their neighborhood and the Kenai Spur Highway — will be heard once again at a May 15 Kenai city council worksession.

This time, the discussion will be about Kenai city manager Paul Ostrander’s attempted compromise between the residential interest and a September 2016 request from dentist Jeremy Sorhus of River City Dental, who’s offered to buy four acres of the 16.5-acre strip for a new clinic. When the city council discussed Sorhus’ offer on January 24, it was opposed by residents from the neighborhoods to the south, some of whom have fought development on the property since the 1980s.

After the Jan. 24 meeting, council members asked Ostrander to suggest options for selling, retaining or dividing the land. Ostrander gave his suggestion at the council’s April 19 meeting: creating a 30-foot strip of land on the neighborhood-facing south side of Lawton Acres, which the city would keep, and dividing the highway-facing side into three parcels to be offered for private acquisition, possibly via competitive bidding.

One of the three parcels to be sold is the proposed site of Sorhus’ clinic, which would be buffered with a wider 130 foot strip on the south side.

Directly west of Sorhus’ prospective purchase is an approximate 6.3 acre lot which Kenai has seeded with wildflowers to create a summer attraction. The Field of Flowers lot would also remain in city hands.

“All of the areas proposed for retention by the city could be deed restricted to prohibit development of these properties,” Ostrander wrote to the council in an April 14 memo. He recommended doing so for the two neighborhood-facing buffer strips, but not for the Field of Flowers, “to allow greater flexibility for the city in the future,” according to Ostrander’s memo.

Greg Daniels, a resident of the Lawton-bordering Rogers Road nieghborhood since 1982 and an opponent of previous development attempts, told council members on April 19 that the subdivision plan wasn’t the outcome he expected after attending the Jan. 24 meeting.

“Where in that meeting did the city council’s intent refocus the worksession on dividing Lawton Acres into a four-tract subdivision?” Daniels said. “…I’m not really happy about that. It went from a little tiny parcel to a subdivision all of a sudden.”

He reiterated a concern he’d expressed at the Jan. 24 meeting — that one commercial development on the lot would lead to another — and said Ostrander’s plan seemed to confirm his fear.

Lawton Acres was once a part of the military airfield that encompassed much of modern Kenai during the 1950s and early 60s. The Federal Aviation Commission granted it to Kenai in 1964 under the condition that the land be legally dedicated to support the airport.

If not directly used by the airport, the condition requires such land to be marketed or leased for airport revenue. This financial obligation prevents the city from closing the land to development without contributing its value to the airport fund.

Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom said he believed the deed restrictions Ostrander recommended “would trigger an obligation on the general fund to reimburse the airport.”

A 2015 city-commissioned appraisal valued the entire 16-acre Lawton strip at $478,000, or about $29,000 per acre.

Daniels said the city should consider a land trade with the airport in order to acquire and preserve the Lawton property — a possibility council member Henry Knackstedt said he hadn’t thought about, but which could be an alternative.

Council member Bob Molloy asked city administrators to investigate what pieces of city-owned, non-airport-dedicated land might make comparable trades for Lawton Acres, and whether the FAA would have to consent to a trade. He also questioned whether or not such a trade would have public support.

Council members also discussed the possibility of holding a popular vote on whether or not the city should purchase Lawton Acres.

The May 15 worksession will take place at 6 p.m at Kenai City Hall.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com

More in News

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kenai Peninsula COVID-19 case rate continues to climb

State reports three consecutive week-over-week increases to new high

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola delivers her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday, in Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

The one-term lawmaker said collaboration between stakeholders has helped produce wins for Alaska’s fisheries and the state’s economy

Most Read