After more than two years of planning, researching and gathering public comments, the public is finally getting a look at the final draft of the borough’s comprehensive plan.
Comprehensive plans are massive documents that outline the future for cities and boroughs based on residents’ wishes and needs. The borough government uses that plan to help guide future decisions on everything from land use to economic development. The Kenai Peninsula Borough last updated its plan in 2003 and started the process again in April 2017.
The draft is long — more than 200 pages — and highlights a number of needs in the borough over the next two decades. One theme that came out was that things are changing. Shelly Wade is the project manager from Agnew:Beck, the Anchorage-based firm the borough contracted to create its new comprehensive plan.
“None of us is unaware of some very real changes just in terms of our state’s fiscal situation since we first started this planning process but also some of the changes that we are experiencing here in our environment and some of the climate change ramifications that we’re experiencing as a state," said Wade when she presented some of the highlights of the plan and the process of creating it - to the borough Planning Commission on Monday.
More than 2,000 residents weighed in on what they would like the Kenai Peninsula to look like in the next 20 years, highlighting the need for economic development and diversification, preservation of the natural environment, better access to activities and events, better local transportation and a more efficient and sustainable borough government, Wade says. Sometimes comprehensive plans are vague with high-level goals, but this plan intentionally includes a number of short-term priorities.
For example, the plan recommends that the borough develop a climate change adaptation plan soon. This summer, with record-high temperatures and record-low rainfall, with major fires burning across the state, has boosted awareness among Alaskans.
“...certainly an up-close-and-personal opportunity for all of us as Alaska residents to really take seriously this idea of regional climate change and the opportunity to develop an adaptation plan,” said Wade.
The Planning Commission received comments from a number of organizations, including the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, suggesting changes to be included in the plan before it goes to the assembly for final approval. There were a number of items missing in the plan that members of the commission said they’d like to see included as well. Planning Commissioner Paulette Bokenko-Carluccio said she wanted to see the cannabis industry included in the final draft, as the industry has grown and contributes to the borough’s economy.
Others said they wanted to see more mention of renewable energy industries in the plan. The oil and gas industry still dominates the borough’s energy market, but there’s growing interest in renewables among residents and at the Homer Electric Association. Commissioner Rob Ernst noted that workforce development efforts should include renewables as well.
“ I feel like a lot of the educational emphasis is on industrial education for industries that are going to pass into oblivion eventually. Oil and gas are great for quick revenue, but we’re training our children for 20th century jobs. We need to look to the future," said Ernst.
The Planning Commission voted to postpone the comprehensive plan approval until its meeting next month, when the consultants and staff can make requested changes. For more information or to submit comments, visit kpbcompplan.com.