Tyson Cox references a sheet illustrating the rotation of seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Tyson Cox references a sheet illustrating the rotation of seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna requests changes to planning commission ordinance

The measure is being considered next week

When the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday considers whether or not to shrink the borough’s planning commission, it will also mull input on the issue provided by the City of Soldotna.

Soldotna City Council members last week voted to send a list of proposed changes to an ordinance introduced by assembly member Bill Elam in April. Elam cited cost savings for the borough in bringing the ordinance forward.

The legislation, if approved, would change the composition of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission such that it resembles the makeup of the borough assembly — or by decreasing the number of commissioners from 14 to nine.

Of the 14 commissioners currently serving, nine represent the same single-member districts as the assembly and board of education. The other five represent the borough’s first-class and home-rule cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward and Seldovia. Under the proposed changes, the individual city seats would be eliminated.

As introduced by the assembly, in cases where a borough legislative district contains a municipality, the borough mayor could consider two separate pools of applicants for the seat. In the first pool would be a list of applicants submitted by the city council from applications received by the city. In the second pool would be applicants from outside the city, but still in the legislative district, who would apply through the borough.

Soldotna City Council members first expressed skepticism over the ordinance as proposed in early May, when Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Director Robert Ruffner presented them with the changes. Multiple council members after that presentation voiced concern that the proposed reconfiguration could give non-city residents the ability to make decisions that affect the city.

Council members also pointed to historic clashes between the city and the borough over who represents Soldotna on the commission. A back-and-forth between the city and the borough dragged on for months and resulted in sweeping changes to the appointment process, including bumping membership to 14.

In a May 30 letter to assembly members, Soldotna City Manager Janette Bower outlined the changes requested by the city council.

First, the council wants there to be 11 commissioners — not nine — with two seats rotating among the borough’s five home rule and first-class cities. Next, the council asks that only city residents be allowed to serve on a city seat, and that city representatives be selected by the borough mayor from a list of at least one applicant submitted by the respective city. Lastly, council members ask that no city have more than one representative on the planning commission.

“The City of Soldotna requests the Borough Mayor and Assembly to reconsider removing the city’s ability to select a city resident to serve on the planning commission,” the May 30 letter to assembly members says. “The City reaffirms its capability and aptitude to select the best candidate to represent both the city and borough residents.”

Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker, who authored the changes articulated in Bower’s letter, said the requested amendments align with previous stances the city has taken on the makeup of the borough planning commission.

Included with the city council’s May 24 meeting materials, for example, is a resolution adopted by the council in 2021 calling for city seats on the commission to be reestablished. The council in 2016 also passed a resolution opposing an ordinance that proposed combining the commission seats held by Kenai and Soldotna.

Assembly members will hold a public hearing and be able to make amendments to the proposed ordinance during their Tuesday meeting, which will be streamed live on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com. A final vote on the proposed changes will be held during the same meeting.

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

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