Monthly Archives: September 2009

Battle zone — Kenai zoning change put before voters

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Richard Kelso, Colleen Ward and Pat Falkenberg address mailers encouraging a yes vote on Proposition A, which would undo a Kenai City Council zoning change in the MAPS neighborhood, at attorney Bob Molloy’s office in Kenai on Saturday.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Richard Kelso, Colleen Ward and Pat Falkenberg address mailers encouraging a yes vote on Proposition A, which would undo a Kenai City Council zoning change in the MAPS neighborhood, at attorney Bob Molloy’s office in Kenai on Saturday.

Redoubt Reporter

Slats of light from what could very well have been the last sunny autumn Saturday of the year broke through the blinds shading computer screens, potluck plates, piles of paper and regenerating stacks of mailing labels in Kenai attorney Bob Molloy’s office on Sept. 26. Instead of being outside getting a look at the fleeting fall foliage, neighbors and their supporters in a Kenai subdivision at odds with the city instead had their eyes full of a different hue — hot pink.

The color has come to brand the efforts of people in the MAPS subdivision — named for the streets that run through the area south of the Kenai Spur Highway across from the high school — who oppose the city council’s decision to rezone 14 parcels of land in their neighborhood from rural residential 1 to limited commercial, and have placed a voter referendum on the Oct. 6 ballot asking residents to repeal the rezone.

PINK stands for “protecting individual neighborhoods in Kenai,” and the color adorns everything to do with the effort — from the “Vote Yes on Prop A” advertising efforts and mailers they were preparing Saturday, to the signs posted in yards and car windows around town, to pink flamingoes that have proliferated in the neighborhood, and even the gorilla suit one of the neighbors dons periodically to stand on the highway and wave at passing traffic.

“The pink gorilla is near and dear to our hearts. So are the flamingos,” said Colleen Ward, a MAPS resident. “Basically, we’ve laughed and we’ve cried together over this. It’s been a long year. We’ve got to find humor in this where we can.”

Residents have spent countless hours attending city council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings to speak out about their concerns, researching city code, zoning ordinances, state statutes and the city’s comprehensive plan, and organizing volunteer efforts to gather signatures for the referendum, pass out cookies at Industry Appreciation Days and in general spread the word about their perspective. Ward estimates she spent 300 hours on the cause from Jan. 10 to the end of March, and that’s not uncommon. One neighbor spent 11 hours working at her computer on a recent Sunday, Ward said.

“We’re probably the only neighborhood that needs a fire-proof, file-drawer-size case to preserve the history of our fight against city hall. That time could have been spent so much more productively.”

That’s been one upshot of this experience, though. Neighbors’ disagreement with the city may be divisive and frustrating, for both sides, at times, but it also has brought residents — some of who have lived in the neighborhood for generations — closer together, Ward said.

“We’re a diverse blend of people — politically, religiously — diverse in as many ways as you can imagine, yet it’s a very wonderful, friendly place to live,” Ward said. “Our diversity is our strength. It makes for a rich, vibrant quality of life, and yet we share a lot. We have a mutual respect for each other’s differences. We kind of embrace those and find strength in them. And the support we’ve received from outside our neighborhood is absolutely phenomenal.”

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At issue… Supporters, foes of rezone have many points of contention

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The following is a summary of some of the issues of concern between supporters and opponents of the limited commercial rezone in the MAPS area.

Rezoning properties to limited commercial could potentially affect the assessments on those properties.

Anti rezone: “Those people who live and have lived in those homes for years, their home is forcibly being rezoned against their will. That is going to affect assessed values, whether the city acknowledges that or not; it’s a no-brainer. Furthermore it’s going to affect the market value of all adjacent properties,” said Colleen Ward.

Pro rezone: Mayor Pat Porter counters that homeowners have had a say in the matter during public hearings on the rezone process. She said she doesn’t want to speculate whether assessments will change, because it’s a borough matter, but noted that everyone’s property gets reassessed every so often.

“My property taxes got increased once they (borough assessors) went through the area, and there’s no business in the area. You could say that would happen, but it may not happen for 10 years. They don’t come through very often,” Porter said.

There has been concern about whether Magic Avenue, which runs between the fire training center and Wal-Mart, will be pushed through to the MAPS neighborhood, increasing traffic.

Anti rezone: In order to put confusion to rest and neighbors’ minds at ease, the city should vacate part of their easement at the end of Magic, ensuring the road will not be extended, said Mark Schrag. Otherwise, what assurance does the neighborhood have that the city won’t come back and extend Magic later?

“It’s the ultimate ‘trust us.’ Like, ‘Trust us, we’ll take care of this’ kind of thing. They want to keep all their options open on a lot of these things. There’s not any real assurance that they won’t go for more in the future.”

Pro rezone: Porter and City Manager Rick Koch said extending Magic has not been part of the council or city administration’s plan and an extension is not included on any platting maps. Koch said he doe plan to pursue vacating the easement, once the city finishes putting in a park near the new Wal-Mart. However, neighbors should keep in mind that today’s council can’t speak for councils in the future.

“I can’t say what will happen in the future. Any council can change anything, you cannot lock one council into something else,” Porter said.

Koch agreed.

“It would be wholly inappropriate for a council today to bind another elected council into the future. That’s not right, nor is it consistent with our form of government being representative of the people — not being representative of the people 50 years ago — that it can never change,” he said.

The city council voted on April 1 to approve the rezone, and later amended what the limited commercial zone in MAPS would entail.

Anti rezone: The council should not have approved the rezone without first deciding the specifics of it.

“It was a premature vote. They should have waited on considering the limited commercial rezone (until after it was defined),” Schrag said.

“They wouldn’t wait to see what the new and revised limited commercial zone was going to look like to even know what they were voting on. The revision of the LC was a very troublesome process, in that it bounced back and forth between Planning and Zoning and the council multiple times because they were trying to find a code that worked in east Kenai (near Peninsula Memorial Chapel, which the council also voted to rezone to limited commercial) and MAPS. As overwhelming public testimony from both areas of Kenai reflects, the characteristics of the two areas are not the same, and therefore the zone should not be the same,” Ward said.

Pro rezone: Porter said the timing wasn’t inappropriate, since the council expected to address specifics of the zone before it went into effect, and since the modifications were made to address neighbors’ concerns.

“I think it’s fine the way it was done. I’m not going to nitpick what should have been done and what shouldn’t have been done when. To me, it doesn’t matter if we do it before or after. We knew (modifications) were going to happen anyway.”

One of the goals of the comprehensive plan is to “create an attractive, vital city center … .”

Anti rezone: The rezone contradicts that goal, because it moves development away from the city center, opponents contend.

“Have you looked around to see if there’s a strong city center? It seems to me like trying to make a strong city center is too hard, and something they don’t want to think about or do, or whatever it is,” said MAPS resident Chuck Winegarden. “But spreading down the highway is easy, especially if you have Wal-Mart to kick it off out there. I think they’re doing it because it’s ‘progress’ and easy to do and they focus on the fact that commercial development is economic progress, but so is residential development. … Residential development is economic development, too, and I believe they’ve got this missed concept.”

Pro rezone: Porter said that, five years ago, there were a lot of empty spaces in the city center for development, but that’s not the case anymore. And the empty spaces that are available may not be feasible for development, if owners aren’t willing to sell, or buyers don’t like those options.

“You can’t force businesses to go locate someplace they don’t want to be. You have to give them options or they won’t be here,” she said.

In addition, it is not unusual for commercial development to be spread out, Porter said.

“In Alaska, it’s extremely difficult because people don’t walk from store to store, they drive, and that’s just the way it is up here.”

Sections of the Kenai Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2003, are pointed to by both sides of the issue to support their perspectives. For instance, one of the goals of the plan is to “promote residential and commercial development.” While a section on future development states that, “The city’s land use plan and zoning code and map should promote an orderly overall pattern of land that: … creates a stable, predicable setting for future investment.”

Anti rezone: Changing a portion of the MAPS neighborhood to limited commercial does not provide a predictable setting for future investment, Ward said.

“People want to know, if they’re investing and building their future homes, that there’s some assurances that the zoning would afford predictable growth, and the city comprehensive plan itself states that those documents (the zoning code and land-use map) are in place so that as people make decisions about where they’re making future investments, they can depend on the reliability of this,” Ward said. “I would assume most of us wouldn’t have chosen to live there if we thought we would have been next door to a commercial enterprise.”

The comp plan also states that, “Based on existing residential, commercial and industrial land use patterns, and estimated demand for land for those uses through 2020, the gross supply of privately owned, developable, appropriately zoned sites appears more than adequate for future development needs.”

A land-use plan map (from 2008) lists MAPS as neighborhood residential. Nowhere is it suggested to institute a limited commercial zone in the MAPS area, rezone opponents say. And in a section on commercial land use, the plan notes concern about “commercial development near residential areas as conditional uses or through rezones, particularly along the Kenai Spur Highway. One of the goals of zoning is to achieve stable, livable residential neighborhoods by separating them from incompatible uses. This is best achieved by zoning sufficient, suitably located land for all expected uses, then adhering to the zoning plan.”

The rezone violates those elements of the comp plan, opponents say, which is a significant matter since the comp plan is meant to guide development.

“I’m a defense attorney and I believe totally that people have a right to due process or notice and the right to be heard. If you look at what the courts say, these planning maps are a process for people to come in, they can give their opinions, and they set up these comp plans. These plans are required by state law. The residents did come, they put their opinions in there, and that limited commercial zone does not comply with that plan, and so the people didn’t get their due process and it’s a constitutional violation,” Winegarden said.

“The city says, ‘Well, the comp plan is outdated.’ Fine, then, revise the plan. Don’t let one tie-breaker vote redirect the growth of the city contrary to what Alaska Statutes say the city should be adhering to at this point in time,” Ward said.

Pro rezone: Porter said the comp plan isn’t meant to be unchangeable, if it’s in the best interests of the city to make a change. And the inception of the limited commercial zone went through the public process, with opportunities for community input.

“For me, a plan is a plan. When you have a life plan, things come your way that put a change in it. It’s OK to make changes to your plan with proper public input. It happens all the time, in Kenai and all over the place. These plans are usually updated every 10 years because they’re so expense, so does that mean for 10 years you can’t change the plan?”

Koch said updating the comp plan would cost about $100,000, half paid for by the borough, and half by the city. He said he expects to budget for a plan update next year.

The limited commercial zone is described as being a transition between residential and commercial zones.

Anti rezone: The LC zone doesn’t belong in MAPS because there is no adjacent commercial zone to transition to, neighbors said. The MAPS neighborhood was rural residential 1, surrounded by conservation land and the highway.

“Where is the commercial district? It doesn’t exist. Limited commercial is supposed to transition to commercial from residential. There no commercial surrounding the area to transition to,” Ward said.

Pro rezone: Wal-Mart is a short distance up the highway, in a commercial zone, Porter said. It may not directly border the LC zone, but that’s not unheard of, she said.

“Up and down the Spur Highway you’re going to find that very same issue,” Porter said.

Koch said he considers the highway itself to be commercial, since it functions as a commercial corridor.

Neither side of the issue has had unanimous support.

Anti rezone: The Planning and Zoning Commission voted twice against the rezone, the majority of public testimony given was in opposition to the rezone, the majority of homeowners in MAPS oppose it and they were able to get nearly 600 signatures from Kenai residents to put the measure on the ballot, Ward said.

“I just want a legitimate voice in the development of our neighborhood, and more than being able to go up and testify in front of the council for three minutes,” Schrag said.

“Planning and Zoning pretty much listened to us, they turned down the limited commercial zone every time it was presented to them. As far as the city council, they said, ‘My mind’s made up. Don’t bother me with the facts.’ They would sit and listen, but that didn’t change their mind one bit. The whole point of our testimony in front of council was ‘Don’t do it, period.’ And they didn’t listen,” Winegarden said.

Pro rezone: Porter said  Planning and Zoning Commission decisions are advisory to the council, not a binding recommendation, and that P&Z did vote in support of the inception of the limited commercial zone when it came about in 2004-05.

Porter said she realizes the majority of MAPS homeowners oppose the rezone and spoke out about it.

“However, when you’re making decisions based on what is good for the city, you should really be looking at what is best for the city overall. Yes, several people came from the neighborhood, but when I’m out and about I see other neighbors in other areas and they say they think it should be rezoned and it’s about time the city did it. I think it’s your responsibility to listen to them, as well,” Porter said.

One of the arguments over the limited commercial zone is what kinds of businesses would be permitted in it, and whether they would attract students to cross the busy highway, presenting a safety concern.

Pro rezone: Porter said amending the limited commercial zone removed many attractants that could lure students across the highway.

“It would be worse to have apartment buildings around there (as far as students crossing the highway); that is allowed in the zone right now and not in the limited commercial zone. It (crossings) would be worse to have a private home with children in it,” she said.

As it is now, when students are going to Safeway or somewhere in that area, she sees them using the bike path until they get to the stop light at Walker Lane and crossing there.

Anti rezone. The area, with the high school, Challenger Center, Multi-Purpose Facility and sports fields, already has a high density of new drivers and several entry and egress points. Adding reasons for increased traffic, and attracting kids across the highway, would increase the danger, Ward said.

“We do not want to promote additional and unnecessary crossings of the five-lane highway,” she said.

While the council did modify what is allowable in the LC zone, not everyone believes that is the end of the story.

“The council talks about how they modified the LC zone to cut our some of attractions to the high school, but they’ve changed that thing three or four times, and you can’t tell me they won’t change it again. That zone is not fixed. If something comes before the city council that they want in there, they may do it again,” Winegarden said.

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Busted trust — Vandals smash windows at Sterling gravel pit

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Not confident that Alaska State Troopers will be able to find the vandals who smashed the windows of the heavy equipment vehicles for his excavating business in the middle of the night, Tony Pearse has enlisted the help of some unconventional investigators — neighborhood students.

Pearse lives and has a shop and gravel pit for his excavating business on 20 acres off Edginton Road in Sterling. Sometime during the night Sept. 22, someone, or a group of vandals, snuck into his yard and climbed into two trucks and a loader. Nothing seems to be stolen, Pearse said. They appear to have used a heavy-duty flashlight to bust the windshields and side windows out from the inside, but the flashlight wasn’t stolen. They also ripped out the citizens band radios and stomped them into the floorboards.

“I don’t know if somebody was mad at me or what.” Pearse said. “I don’t think so, but you never know. It’s kind of strange they didn’t steal anything. Unless it was kids that didn’t want to bring that stuff home and have their parents question it.”

Pearse’s home is about 800 yards from where the heavy equipment was parked, and he and his family didn’t hear anything during the night. Neighbors didn’t see or hear anything that night, either, Pearse said. He didn’t even realize it had happened until a customer came by the next morning to buy some gravel.

“He asked me, ‘Did anybody get hurt?’ He said, ‘Your windows are broke, and there’s blood. I didn’t know if anybody got hurt or not,’” Pearse said.

It appears someone cut their hand on some of the broken glass, and there was blood in one of the cabs. Troopers came to investigate, and Pearse said he got the impression there wouldn’t be much troopers could do.

“A trooper came out within an hour. They took fingerprints and took a blood sample and stuff, but he was pretty upfront about it. He said rarely do they ever catch these people.”

There’s no stolen property to track, and even with fingerprints, if it was teenagers who broke the windows, they may not have fingerprints entered into the public safety database. But Pearse hasn’t given up hope; he’s got local kids on the lookout. Continue reading

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Building knowledge — Students seek projects for hands-on learning

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tim Wight and Skyview High School students Mary Doremire and Heath Healy work Thursday on the roof of a shed that the school’s new building trades class is working on.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tim Wight and Skyview High School students Mary Doremire and Heath Healy work Thursday on the roof of a shed that the school’s new building trades class is working on.

Redoubt Reporter

A new building trades class at Skyview High School is off to great start, even better than instructor Tim Wight was hoping. Maybe, a little too good.

His six students have jumped right into their first project, building a shed, and seem ready, willing and enthusiastic to learn anything he can teach them, he said. At this rate, the class will be ready to move onto their next project in no time, and their next, and that’s where Wight foresees a problem.

He’s running out of work for them to do.

The building trades class is meant to provide high school students with an opportunity for hands-on, real-world construction skills training. The hands-on part is easy. The students are eager to put their hands to work, and as a home builder in the area for the last eight years, Wight has plenty of knowledge in construction to share with them.

The real-world portion is proving a little trickier. It isn’t a traditional shop class, where the school budgets a certain amount of money for wood and other raw materials so everybody in the class can make a flower planter or cutting board or what not. The students are meant to do real projects for real people in a real, construction-site environment.

So what Wight really needs is work.

“The goal is to reach out to the community, go to people’s homes and remodel, build, insulate, wire, plumb, Sheetrock, mud, texture, paint. If anyone has a project they’d like done, please let me know,” Wight said. Continue reading

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Diving in — Nikiski mother, daughter find activity to wet their interest

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Marti Pepper. From left, Donnie Joachim, Marti Pepper, Jacque Pepper and DeeAnne Pokryfki cross the finish line first in a novice, mixed quad sculling race at the Moose Nugget Regatta in Wasilla on Sept. 12.

Photos courtesy of Marti Pepper. From left, Donnie Joachim, Marti Pepper, Jacque Pepper and DeeAnne Pokryfki cross the finish line first in a novice, mixed quad sculling race at the Moose Nugget Regatta in Wasilla on Sept. 12.

Redoubt Reporter

Starting out in rowing takes drive for anyone. Marti Pepper and daughter, Jacque, were no different.

When they joined the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association at the beginning of the summer, they suffered through the spaghetti arms, burning thighs and sore core muscles that come from the sneakily full-body workout. They got confused by the unfamiliar and seemingly unending terminology, and fumbled through learning how to carry, launch, retrieve and even fix the fancy boats.

They wrapped their heads around the disorientation of facing one direction yet moving the other, and swallowed the panic of feeling the boat list or the oar jerking parallel to the boat (called “catching a crab”). And they mustered the dedication it takes to make it to practice all summer at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. Saturday.

For the Peppers, there was an added, literal element of drive: They live in Nikiski, and rowing practice is on Mackey Lake in Soldotna. That means a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call, all summer long.

“It takes a 45-minute drive,” Marti Pepper said.

“Well, depends if we’re late or not,” Jacque added.

“Ssshh, it’s always 45 minutes,” Marti said.

“Sleep got a little bit missed,” Jacque said.

The early morning meeting time was the first and largest hurdle to overcome for the Peppers. Marti had a co-worker years ago who rowed, and made it sound so fun Marti wanted to try it, if it weren’t for the time.

“I said, ‘There’s no way I could ever do that,’” Marti said. “Then Vickie Tinker (club president) said, ‘Just try it. Once you get out on the water, you’ll get over the morning.’”

She agreed to give it a try, her skepticism keeping her company that first long drive in to Soldotna. Sure, rowing sounds fun, she loves the water and she was looking for a way to get in shape. But to get up at 4:30 a.m. all summer? Rowing would have to rock her world to keep her going.

It did. Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Falling into place — Autumn leaves become lunch for many creatures

By David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

 Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. Fall leaves bring nutrients to the forest, from fungi to a variety of insects.

Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. Fall leaves bring nutrients to the forest, from fungi to a variety of insects.

Leaves are falling. Who could miss it? This time of year, some roads can be completely covered, and clouds of billowing leaves get lofted into the air by every passing car.

All too soon our birch, alder, aspen and cottonwood trees stand naked as snow covers the ground. Considering that the average tree can drop over 200,000 leaves, it’s no wonder they cover the ground with their fall yellow, tan and brown colors.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all those leaves? I am sure you have noticed that while there are always a few leaves to be found on the forest floor, there is no evidence of years and years of leaves piling up under the forest canopy. Why aren’t we wading hip-deep through many years of leaves piled on the ground?

The answer to where they went is fairly straightforward. Many of the leaves were partially consumed by a variety of insects before they ever left the tree. Fallen leaves often have insect chew holes, gnaw marks or evidence of leaf-miner caverns. Once the leaves pile up on the forest floor, they get rained on and packed together. Now the fungi, bacteria and a variety of invertebrates start breaking down the newly fallen leaves.

Threadlike mycelia from a myriad of different fungi grow into the moist leaves. These mycelia secrete cellulose digesting enzymes that break down the leaves. Then the invertebrates, like beetle larvae, earthworms and amphipods, do their jobs. They chew up the leaves and also feed on the fungi. Within a year’s time, most of the leaves have been transformed into an unidentifiable mass of organic humus in the forest soil. Those leaves on the very top of the pile may dry out often enough that fungi and invertebrates won’t break them down this year.

However, next year when they are on the bottom of the leaf pile, they’ll get broken down first. Eventually, all the leaves become part of the soil’s humus and increase the moisture-holding ability, as well as the overall quality of the forest soil. Continue reading

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Mixed bag: Hunting season ups, downs

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

At this writing, hunting season is in full swing, and to tell the truth, it is difficult to make time to write. The season goes by so quickly it is nearly impossible, for me at least, to do anything but hunt with the little spare time available. In any event, local hunting has been somewhat sporadic this year.

Preseason scouting revealed one of the most prolific populations of legal bull moose I can remember in many years. Most were of the spike-fork variety, which seemed to bode well for archery hunters and, from everything I hear, did go very well for them. One group of hunters I know went four-for-four on moose, two during archery season and two after and they were hunting locally. That’s a fairly astonishing success rate, even among diehard moose hunters. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the season was not predicted to be any better than most, and perhaps it has just been the nearby areas that produced well.

Since the opening of waterfowl season, I have spent little time worrying about moose or really looking for them. I also have not heard much in the way of success by the regular-season hunters, but perhaps I haven’t been listening at the right place or time.

Opportunities for mountain black bear are high and will remain that way into October. A climb above tree line virtually anywhere in the Cooper Landing area will reveal black bears. The key to finding them is to get up high and glass an area. A once- over with binoculars isn’t enough, although it will sometimes produce results immediately.

Black bears move as they feed on berry patches, and they will go through alder patches and shrub brush on the mountainsides when they are feeding. It’s a case of one minute they’re there, the next they’re not. Take some time and glass and you will almost certainly locate a black bear.

Now, getting to it is another thing. Prior to waterfowl season I was up above tree line and spotted two black bears on different mountain slopes. Picking the one that left the wind in my favor, I made a stalk and everything seemed to be going well. When I last saw the bear he was roughly 500 yards distant and it seemed like an easy finish to get in good range and take him. But it was not to be. When I peeked up over the knoll I had used to close the distance to 250 yards, he was nowhere to be seen. I spent the next couple of hours watching, reasoning he would come back out and resume feeding as they commonly do. And, of course, he didn’t. Continue reading

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