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 ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read