Robert Ruffner fields questions from attendees at a meeting to discuss the potential boundaries of a Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Robert Ruffner fields questions from attendees at a meeting to discuss the potential boundaries of a Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Seeking more local say, Nikiski residents pursue advisory planning commission

A group of Nikiski residents are pushing for more local say in borough land decisions that affect their community. Residents have successfully petitioned to create an advisory planning commission for the area. The group convened Tuesday with Kenai Peninsula Borough planners at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center to talk about which areas should be represented on that commission.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s advisory planning commissions give local input and suggestions to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission. That commission, composed of residents from across the borough, has final authority over plats and conditional use permits, has comprehensive planning responsibility and makes recommendations to the borough assembly.

Advisory planning commissions offer comments on things that the borough planning commission will vote on. That could include platting, permitted and certain legislative issues. There are currently six active advisory planning commissions in the borough: one each in Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Funny River, Hope/Sunrise, Moose Pass and Kachemak Bay.

A seventh advisory planning commission exists in Kalifornsky, however, it was deemed inactive earlier this year after the group could not assemble enough commissioners to constitute a quorum.

Kenai Peninsula Borough River Center Manager Samantha Lopez told attendees at Tuesday’s meeting that advisory planning commissions give residents of a certain area a way to formally give input on issues that will affect their community.

“I think one thing we can all recognize is that you guys know your community a lot better than we do,” Lopez said.

Discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was whether or not the communities of Tyonek and Beluga should be included within the boundaries of Nikiski’s advisory planning commission.

Both communities, which are located on the west side of Cook Inlet, are already grouped with the Nikiski in other ways, such as in the Nikiski Fire Service Area and in the North Peninsula Recreational Service Area. A majority of attendees said they would support including Tyonek and Beluga in the commission boundaries.

If approved, the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission would have the largest acreage — by a lot — of any of the borough’s other advisory planning commissions. Including the communities of Beluga and Tyonek, the Nikiski area would be about 3.5 million acres. The next largest advisory planning commission area is Kachemak Bay, which covers about 263,000 acres.

Efforts to get an advisory planning commission off the ground for the Nikiski area are being coordinated by resident Camille Broussard. She said she was motivated to start the process after the borough reclassified two parcels of land near Daniels Lake. Those parcels were ultimately removed from the reclassification legislation approved by borough assembly members.

Broussard said the experience revealed to her the role advisory planning commissions can make in borough planning commission decisions and how local residents are sometimes left in the dark if they’re not directly affected by those decisions.

“When making decisions, the commissioners often asked what the local APC said. I realized Nikiski needs one,” Broussard said. “It’s a way for Nikiski to be informed and have representation and a voice, through an established and valid format recognized by the borough.”

She said there’s been chatter before about creating an advisory planning commission in Nikiski, but a formal petition has never been made.

As the petitioner, Broussard had to gather signatures from at least 20 qualified voters who live within the proposed boundaries. Those signatures were then verified by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk’s Office. Tuesday’s meeting satisfied the requirement that the planning director meet with community members to discuss area boundaries.

Now, Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce will craft an ordinance establishing the new advisory planning commission. That ordinance is subject to final approval by the borough assembly.

More information about the borough’s advisory planning commissions can be found on the borough’s planning website at kpb.us/planning-dept/planning-commissions/about-apcs.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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