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

Renewable IPP CEO Jenn Miller presents information about solar power during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Company looks to build solar farm on peninsula

It would be roughly 20 times the size of the largest solar farm currently in the state.

(Image courtesy CDC)
Officials: COVID is at a plateau in Alaska

The approved COVID vaccines, Zink said, are the best tool to get cases to drop off.

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

“Soctober” will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at the Cook Inlet Counseling parking lot at 10200 Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, and consists of rock painting, the winter gear giveaway and a free spaghetti lunch. (Image via Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse)
Recovery group to host outreach event

The event will include rock painting, the winter gear giveaway and a free spaghetti lunch.

Finn Petersen, left, is announced the winner of a $49,000 Alaska 529 scholarship on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, as part of the “Give AK a Shot” COVID-19 vaccine program. (Photo via the Alaska Chamber of Commerce)
Anchorage residents win latest vaccine lottery

“Give AK a Shot” awards $49,000 in cash scholarships to one newly vaccinated adult and one child.

Jason Floyd testifies in opposition to COVID-19 mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Protesters pack council meeting, declare ‘medical liberty’

Attendance at Wednesday’s meeting was reduced to standing-room only.

Baked goods are on display during a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce pie auction in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy Soldotna Chamber of Commerce)
‘Local gourmets’ to share baking skills at Soldotna Pie Auction

The Great British Baking Show-esque event showcases local culinary talent.

A spruce bark beetle is seen on the underside of a piece of bark taken from logs stacked near Central Peninsula Landfill on Thursday, July 1, 2021 near Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Chugach campgrounds to be closed for beetle kill mitigation

Only one campground will be closed at a time, and updates on closures will be shared to the Chugach National Forest’s website.

Most Read