Planning commission defines ‘water-dependent’ buildings

The Kenai Peninsula Borough planning commission issued a more detailed definition for buildings placed inside the anadromous stream setback.

Most of the population of the peninsula lives near a body of water, many of which are anadromous streams. While the area was being settled and developed, this never presented a problem, but when the habitat protection ordinance was established in 2011, it raised questions of how riverfront property could be developed.

Placing buildings inside the 50-foot buffer zone can be tricky because it requires a conditional use permit. One of the criteria for the permit is that the building is “water-dependent,” but that term remained undefined.

The planning department has been receiving more requests to build along water bodies and some of the planning commission members mentioned they were concerned about areas such as Poacher’s Cove, where development encroaches on the river.

Dr. Rick Foster, one of the planning commission members, raised the question of the definition during a discussion about a residential property close to the river. The applicant argued that the trailer is water dependent because it is a residence and because of the lot size.

Foster was absent from the Monday meeting because of the snow on the roads, but the commission voted to say that water-dependent structures “may include but are not limited to piers, boat ramps or elevated walkways for purpose of enabling access to the water for activities such as fishing.”

Small lots where there is little space to develop drove the conversation. If someone owns a lot on the river and wants to develop it but the structure is not water-dependent, they will not be able to develop it. The commissioners agreed that it would be unfair to take away the ability to develop small lots but still wanted to define water-dependent.

Sandra Holsten, one of the planning commission members, said she thought the list of the three water-dependent structures may be limiting and should be expanded to include the phrase “may include but are not limited to.”

Holly Montague, one of the borough attorneys, said the ordinance could not list everything and suggested the “not limited to” because there may be future structures that could be water-dependent, such as a bridge or a boathouse.

There may be other temporary structures as well, said Robert Ruffner, a member of the planning commission and the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

“I can see why we might not want to tie it down exactly,” Ruffner said. “Scientific equipment would be one (exception), Fish and Game are doing stuff on the edge of the river, and they need to be able to do that. Fences are another one that we’ve talked about for a long time. If the water’s creating a situation where they need to keep people from trespassing, that kind of fence would be need tied to the water.”

The commission approved the definition as a resolution and sent it to the borough assembly.

“In the future we’re going to have to address structures such as those in Poacher’s Cove and small lots that don’t necessarily correspond to this definition and were going to have to come back within the five-year review along with water lines and wells, which wouldn’t really fit into the water-dependent state,” said Max Best, the planning director, at the planning commission’s Monday meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

More in News

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska not included in feds’ proposed 5-year oil and gas program

The plan includes a historically low number of proposed sales

A copy of "People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska" stands in sunlight in Soldotna, Alaska, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Moose Pass to receive award for community historical effort

“People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska” was a collaboration among community members

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board Member Debbie Cary speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Cary also served on the borough’s reapportionment board. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
School board president receives award for meritorious service

Debbie Cary, of Ninilchik, is the Alaska Superintendent Association’s 2024 recipient of the Don MacKinnon Excellence in Education Award

Dr. Tara Riemer is seen in this provided photo. (Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center)
SeaLife Center president resigns

Riemer worked with the center for 20 years

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Election 2023: When, where to vote Tuesday

City council, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the local school board races are all on the ballot

Dianne MacRae, Debbie Cary, Beverley Romanin and Kelley Cizek participate in a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education candidate forum at Soldotna Public Library in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
School board candidates wrap up forum series

The forum was the eighth in a series hosted by the Clarion and KDLL ahead of the 2023 elections

Signs direct visitors at the City of Seward’s city hall annex on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Electric sale referendums to be reconsidered next month

The two referendums aim to remove from the city’s Oct. 3 ballot two propositions related to the sale of the city’s electric utility

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Board of Fish proposals center on king salmon, east side setnet fishery

Many proposals describe changes to the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Senior Prom King and Queen Dennis Borbon and Lorraine Ashcraft are crowned at the 2023 High Roller Senior Prom at Aspen Creek Senior Living in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.
Senior prom crowns king and queen

In brainstorming options, the concept of putting on a prom turned some heads

Most Read