By Jenny Neyman
How Kenai must you be in order to have a role in making decisions for the city?
The Kenai City Council on Wednesday redefined its answer in loosening the requirement for serving on the planning and zoning commission to allow up to two of the seven seats to be filled by nonresidents who either own property or a controlling interest in a business in the city.
Making the change to allow nonresidents on the commission involved a philosophical discussion over how much weight to give one’s home address.
Vice Mayor Brian Gabriel said he thinks there’s a large number of Kenai business owners, living outside the city, who would like to serve on the commission.
“There’s many other cities within the state and across the country that do allow nonresidents from their corporate and city boundaries (to serve) on the planning and zoning. They’re invested community, and I don’t think considering their input is a bad thing,” Gabriel said.
Council member Tim Navarre has been a near lifelong Kenai resident, yet serves on various committees outside the city. Where one lives isn’t the only qualification dictating where one’s interests lie, and he thinks the city should be open to the involvement of those who invest here, not just live here.
“I see that the city of Kenai is open for business is willing to involve people because our city wouldn’t be as great as it is if we didn’t have people from all around peninsula that not only work, invest in our city and everything else,” Navarre said.
Council members Bob Molloy, Terry Bookey and Ryan Marquis voted against the ordinance. Bookey challenged the assumption that having a business interest in Kenai is the same as having an interest in the overall health of the community.
“I think that we can look around this country and others and make a pretty good argument that businesses don’t always have the sustainability of a community in which they do business in as their motivating factor,” Bookey said. “Their motivating factor is going to be profit, and I can see the situation where a member of the planning and zoning commission is going to be looking out for their best business interest.”
Bookey also took issue with the wording of the ordinance, noting that the term nonresident could mean five miles out of town, or 50, or 500.
“It means anywhere outside of the city limits of the city of Kenai. So that could be somebody who lives in Anchorage, that could be somebody who lives in Washington, that could be somebody who doesn’t live in this country,” he said.
Marquis pointed out that business and property owners can have their voices heard without the ability to say yea or nay as a committee member.
“They still have plenty of opportunity to provide that input. Everyone is welcome to a planning and zoning commission meeting and to provide input. They don’t have to sit up here to provide input,” Marquis said.
Gabriel, Navarre, Council Member Henry Knackstedt and Mayor Pat Porter voted in favor of the change. Porter said that the ordinance only allows for up to two nonresident business or property owners to serve on the commission, it doesn’t require that two members fit that bill. It merely opens up more options for the mayor to bring forth to the council for confirmation. The council still has the ability to vote down a nominee, which requires someone else to be brought forward.
“What you’re taking away is the ability of the mayor to make a decision on what makes up a real good planning and zoning and whether or not they would be able to work well together as a team effort for the benefit of the city,” Porter said. And not necessarily have specific agendas that they’d like to have followed. So the council still holds the cards to all of that, not the mayor.”
The terms of two commission members are up in 2015.