Non-resident business owner now allowed to serve on Kenai planning and zoning commission

A person who doesn’t live in Kenai but owns a business there is now eligible to serve on the city’s seven-member Planning and Zoning Commission after the passage of an ordinance at Wednesday’s Kenai City Council Meeting.

At the council’s June 3 meeting, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter submitted the ordinance, which originally proposed that up to two non-residents could become commissioners if they owned either property or a business physically located in Kenai. After amending the ordinance to allow only a single non-resident business owner to serve on the commission, the council postponed voting on it until the July 15 meeting.

At the time the ordinance was introduced there was an opening on the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has since been filled by Patrick “Jack” Focose, who was nominated by the mayor and unanimously confirmed by the council at the July 1 council meeting. Commission nominations are made by the mayor, who selects from the applications on file at time of the vacancy and brings her choice to the council. A commission application is kept filed by the city clerk’s office until one year after its submission. At the time of Focose’s nomination, the clerk’s office held four other applications available for nomination to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

In council meetings, Porter defended the ordinance as a measure to give the commission a broader range of potential applicants, stating that Kenai did not provide enough individuals who were qualified for or interested in commission service. “Interest among qualified residents to serve on the planning and zoning commission has been low,” she wrote in n a memo accompanying the ordinance.

Council Member Bob Molloy contested the claim of low interest in the commission seats, bringing forward an ordinance of his own to allow not only the mayor, but council members to make nominations for commission seats.

“In my opinion,” Molloy wrote in a memo accompanying his ordinance, “if City residents’ interest is low, a substantial contributing factor is that only the Mayor can nominate an applicant for an opening on the Commission.”

Molloy’s ordinance was voted down at a June 17 council meeting.

Porter’s ordinance was discussed twice by the current members of the Planning and Zoning Commission. After examining the ordinance on May 27, they unanimously voted not to recommend its passage to the city council. After the amendment and delay, the ordinance was returned for the commission’s reconsideration on June 24.

At the second meeting, commissioners thought the ordinance might imply that the Planning and Zoning seat it opened for a non-resident business owner was reserved for a non-resident business owner. The commission requested additional language in the ordinance clarifying that it did not require a non-resident planning and zoning commissioner, but only allowed one. With this requested change, the commission unanimously voted to recommended passage of the ordinance to city council.

At the July 15 meeting, council members proposed two further amendments to the ordinance. The first amendment, introduced by Knackstedt and passed unanimously, fulfilled the Planning and Zoning commission’s request to specify that the commission seat available for a non-resident business owner was not designated for a non-resident business owner.

The second proposed amendment, introduced by Molloy, would give a resident priority over a non-resident if both were to apply for the same seat. Molloy said to clarify that his amendment would prohibit the mayor from nominating and the council from confirming a non-resident to the Planning and Zoning commission if a resident has also applied for a vacant seat.

Porter said Molloy’s amendment would unnecessarily restrict the mayor’s power over commission nominations.

“What you’re taking away — whether it’s me or another mayor — is the ability of the mayor to make a decision on what makes up a real good planning and zoning, and whether they would be able to work well together as a team effort for the good of the city, and not necessarily have specific agendas they’d like to have followed,” Porter said.

Molloy’s amendment failed, with council members Brian Gabriel, Knackstedt, Navarre, and Porter voting against it.

Following the failed amendment vote, Council Member Terry Bookey questioned the ordinance’s details, including the unspecified process to determine whether or not a prospective non-resident nominee owns, as the ordinance requires, “a controlling interest in a business physically located in (Kenai).”

“Who’s going to be investigating this?” Bookey said. “Who’s going to make sure that this applicant is in fact a 50.1 percent, at least, controlling ownership? And how are we going to ensure that this person is retaining this level of ownership through the course of their seat on the Planning and Zoning, so we don’t have somebody who in violation of our ordinances? … I can see a situation where you sell out, or come into different levels of stock in the organization. So how are we going to make sure that this is policed?”

In answer to Bookey, Porter said “the responsibility of that investigation belongs with council.”

Both Bookey and Molloy said this level of investigation was not feasible for city council. Molloy said the ordinance language included no measure to automatically enforce the controlling share requirement.

“It doesn’t say that if they sell their interest, they’re automatically out,” Molloy said. “That could happen during the term. That (investigation) shouldn’t be the responsibility of the council.”

Bookey said the ordinance’s lack of enforcing language could make it difficult for an investigating council member to demand ownership documentation from an applicant that may be reluctant to disclose it.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of doing due diligence or not doing our job,” Bookey said. “There’s nothing here that makes somebody have to give you that information.”

The ordinance passed with Molloy, Bookey, and Ryan Marquis voting against it.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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