Lawton Acres to have appraisal by July 5

In an ongoing debate about a city of Kenai-owned property contested for its value as either commercial land or a wooded residential buffer, the Kenai City Council will have at least one important question answered in their next discussion on July 5 — what the property is worth.

Having a fresh appraisal value for Lawton Acres — a 16.49 acre strip of wooded land between the Kenai Spur Highway and neighborhoods along Lawton Drive, long disputed between would-be developers and residents seeking a buffer from traffic and commercial activity along the highway — will let the council vote on a proposal from council member Mike Boyle to preserve the land from development using city general funds.

Kenai has been intermittently debating development proposals on Lawton Acres since 1982, which in the past have been successfully opposed by activist residents of the nearby neighborhoods. The most recent controversy began in January when dentist Jeremy Sorhus offered to buy 4.5 acres of the strip’s east end for a dentist office.

Though the city owns Lawton Acres, it is legally dedicated to supporting the Kenai Muncipal Airport through earning sales or lease revenue, according to an agreement between Kenai and the Federal Aviation Administration, the land’s previous owners. Under this arrangement, releasing Lawton Acres from its airport obligation requires contributing its value to Kenai’s airport fund. Boyle’s proposal to do this has been hampered by debate over what the land’s value is.

Previous estimates of the land’s value have ranged from the $450,000 city-commissioned appraisal by the McSwain Group in February 2015 to the $1.44 million that realtor and Kenai Airport Commission chair Glenda Feeken gave at the council’s May 17 meeting. City Manager Paul Ostrander had asked Feeken to provide an unofficial opinion on the property’s worth based on comparable recent sales of commercial property.

Under Kenai city code, “purchasing” the land will require a new appraisal of the property, which council members authorized at their last meeting on May 17, and which Ostrander said Wednesday will be finished by the July 5 meeting. Appraisers from the McSwain Group will deliver three appraisals: one for all of Lawton Acres, one of the property Sorhus proposed to purchase, and one of the roughly 7 acres on the west end of the lot that would exclude Sorhus’ prospective lot and the Field of Flowers.

Ostrander said McSwain would be appraising the property under its current zoning as “conservation” land, a classification that would exclude its commercial development. The new appraisals will also not make adjustments for possible soil contamination in the property now known as the Field of Flowers, which oil companies used in the 1970s to practice firefighting exercises.

Boyle’s purchase ordinance was originally introduced at the May 17 council meeting and delayed until Wednesday for lack of an appraisal value for Lawton Acres. Still lacking an appraisal value, it was delayed again in a unanimous motion made by council member Henry Knackstedt.

Knackstedt also moved to refer the purchase ordinance to the Kenai Airport Commission, which Boyle described as a delay tactic. The airport commission will discuss it and hold an advisory vote at their July 13 meeting — after the July 5 meeting at which the council is scheduled to vote on it. Kenai attorney Scott Bloom said the airport commission referral wouldn’t necessarily delay the council’s scheduled July 5 vote, but could encourage council members to postpone again — this time until August 2, because the council has no second meeting scheduled in July. Boyle and council member Bob Molloy voted against referral.

If Boyle’s solution to the Lawton Acres problem fails to pass the council, another way to preserve the land — which Molloy advocated in a May 15 discussion of the issue — would be to include a city-wide vote on whether to “purchase” the land with general fund money on the October municipal election ballot.

Wednesday’s decision creates a tight timeline for putting this idea into action. Council members would have to vote to put the question on the ballot by their Aug. 2 meeting, requiring that an ordinance to do so be introduced at the previous meeting, which would again be July 5.

Reach Ben Boettger at

More in News

Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion 
The Kenai River can be seen from the Funny River Campground on Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Funny River, Alaska.
State seeks funding for Funny River boat launch

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is working to secure funding for… Continue reading

COVID-19 cases remain high in area

Every region of Alaska was considered to be at “intermediate” or “high”… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
The entrance to Soldotna Public Library is seen on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska.
Soldotna library seeks to beef up reading programs

The Soldotna Public Library will use a $2,200 donation from the Soldotna… Continue reading

Characters from the "Little Mermaid" wave to the crowd from the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Soldotna Progress Days parade on Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Progress on parade

The Progress Days Parade was held Saturday in Soldotna.… Continue reading

Scaffolding is erected around the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, July 20, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Parishioners largely welcomed back to in-person church services

One serious point of contention during the coronavirus pandemic, amid many, has… Continue reading

Kenai Courthouse is photographed on February 26, 2019 in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Court reports, July 25

The following dismissals were recently handed down in Kenai District Court: Dalton… Continue reading

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Police Reports, July 25, 2021

Information for this report was taken from publicly available law enforcement records… Continue reading

Clayton Holland stands in his office at the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
New superintendent discusses upcoming school year

Clayton Holland is ready to get to work. That’s what the new… Continue reading

South Peninsula Hospital registered nurse Anne Garay gives Jessica Entsminger her second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, May 7, 2021, at a pop-up vaccination clinic at the Boathouse Pavillion on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. About 25 people received vaccines in the first 3.5 hours of the 4-hour clinic. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
As COVID cases increase, officials think we’re not yet at the fourth peak

Department of Health and Social Services officials said during a Thursday press… Continue reading

Most Read