The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission heard more than an hour of public testimony Wednesday night regarding a proposed development near the Kenai river.
The development proposed is for a couple ponds on private property between Chinook Drive and the Kenai river. Dr. Lavern Davidhizar first submitted an application for material extraction last year. The commission asked for more information at that time and took up the issue again this spring.
While Dr. Davidhizar wasn’t at the meeting Wednesday night, he did have someone to reluctantly speak on his behalf. Jason Foster of North Star Paving told the commission he’d worked with Davidhizar on sketching out the basics of what it would take to remove a few hundred thousand cubic yards of gravel, leaving two 14-20 foot pits that would fill in with water and be left as ponds.
“I wish he would have taken my advice and retained an engineer to give you guys more information (about) what he is exactly planning to do. It’s just too broad. It’s easy to see that it could have negative effects because it’s just so broad. It’s not specific enough.”
And the city needs specifics when it comes to special use permits, which is what had been applied for. Foster offered some defense of the idea if not the plan that’s been submitted. He says with more details worked out and better engineering, it’s feasible.
“I will also say that my parents had the property up for sale for a year and I think if somebody wanted to protect the view they could have bought it. It’s purchased by somebody who wants to develop it. If you guys are outside the jurisdiction of the river, here in 2018 with all that’s happened, unless somebody has any historical facts of negative impacts that have happened to the river beyond 300 feet, I don’t think that there’s very many valid arguments that this is going to impact the river.”
There were a number of concerns raised by neighbors and other groups. Many pointed to the potential of a flood overtaking those ponds and what effect that could have on the river system. A gravel pit near the Anchor River, smaller than what’s been proposed here, was captured by the river in 2002 and damaged fish habitat. Though the city deemed the permit application complete enough for a review and a public hearing, city planner Elizabeth Appleby noted close to a dozen criteria that weren’t met or had other issues.
Appleby: “City staff recommends the Planning and Zoning Commission deny this application because the city finds it does not meet requirements for screening, access impacts, compatibility with the zoning code, compatibility with the comprehensive plan and it does not weigh potential detrimental impacts to neighboring properties.”
Several groups spoke against granting the permit, including Cook Inlet Keeper, the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board. Beyond paperwork deficiencies, neighbors had their own concerns about property values and how development in that area would affect their river views. Jamie Nelson told the commission that if he had to choose between a new subdivision being developed there or the two ponds, he’d take the neighbors.
“I’d prefer there weren’t homes down there, but if there were homes down there it wouldn’t detract from our property values as much as an unnatural pond being put in, along with the gravel extraction. I wouldn’t have as many environmental concerns with the homes as I would with the ponds. Multiple organizations have commented that it’s quite likely that if we have a severe flood, the river could capture those ponds. Even if we don’t have a flood, the risk for erosion during any high snowfall year would be exceptional.”
It was on those grounds and, most notably, the lack of detail in the submitted plans, that the commission unanimously denied the permit application. Dr. Davidhizar now has 15 days to appeal that decision.