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Unit 395 classified for resource management, recreation

Four maps of possible plans for Unit 395, presented at the Cooper Landing Community Hall.
Riley Board
/
KDLL
Four maps of possible plans for Unit 395, from a Nov. 2022 meeting at the Cooper Landing Community Hall.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has classified its 1,000-acre Cooper Landing property known as Unit 395 for resource management and recreation.

The change follows a year-in-the-making master plan from consulting firm RESPEC, which conducted studies and held community meetings to write a report on the best use for the parcel. The land, also known as Juneau Bench, will soon be bisected by the new alignment of the Sterling Highway, and also contains part of the Resurrection Pass trail.

In that report, RESPEC recommends for the parcel, “recreation and resource management, with considerations for wildlife management and cultural preservation and facilitation.” Those resources include gravel and hardrock.

Last week, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted on a resolution to reclassify the land. Borough Lands Manager Marcus Mueller addressed the assembly’s Lands Committee last Tuesday.

“So we have this large block of land, the highway is going through it, it’s kind of poorly understood land, until we went in and did the reconnaissance work of this planning effort,” Mueller said.

RESPEC began surveying the land in Sept. 2022, and solicited community opinions on the parcel, which ranged from a desire forpreserved recreation space to affordable housing.

The small community of Cooper Landing has struggled with a lack of affordable housing, especially for young families. That issue was top-of-mind at community meetings last year, and consultants worked on a separate affordable housing report along with the master plan.

RESPEC concludes in its report that housing development is possible in the long-term, but unlikely in the short term.

“A lot of the potentials of this property just are not ripe, right now. It’s not the time right now to go in and start plotting subdivisions up there.” Mueller said. “Whether that’s 10 years out or 20 years out, I don’t have that crystal ball, but I think once the highway goes through there and people start looking at it, it’s going to drive a whole lot of new interest in that landscape.”

But he said even with the new classification, the borough will keep future housing in mind.

“So the conclusion of the plan is: hold that land to preserve those opportunities,” Mueller said. “Preserve as much of the decision-making space so that when it does come time to do residential development, we know what’s out there, we know what the scope of possibilities are, and we have that land available to serve those purposes.”

During the Lands Committee meeting, Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said he’s working with the borough’s legal department to find a way to prioritize Kenai Peninsula residents when it comes to purchasing those future residential properties.

The classification resolution passed unanimously at the Borough Assembly’s Jan. 16 meeting, and took effect immediately.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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