Members of the public were invited to comment on the development of the Mill Bay Road during a town hall meeting held Monday evening at East Elementary School. The meeting was attended primarily by business owners along the road.

The meeting was led by Ryan Givens, a Washington-based city planner and urban designer with Stantec Consulting Services Inc., an engineering and design firm.

The work of Stantec in Kodiak is supported by a $600,000 Brownfields grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Brownfields are defined by the EPA as properties that are difficult to redevelop or reuse due to the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. 

The grant was given to a coalition that includes the Kodiak Island Borough, the city of Kodiak and Natives of Kodiak, Inc. in September. 2017.

Erin Welty, acting director of the borough Community Development Department, said that since the grant was received, work has included a review of potential brownfield properties and environmental site assessments throughout the urban area of Kodiak.

The grant will not support the actual cleanup of contaminated sites.

The coalition has chosen to focus on Mill Bay Road because it has become Kodiak’s commercial district and has a high concentration of brownfield sites, Welty said. She added that work on the grant project, which began in October 2017, is expected to end by early 2020.

Givens, along with colleagues from Stantec, is expected to deliver a recommendations document incorporating feedback from the public and government entities at the end of the project. Welty said the document will be used as a resource as the borough and city implement regulatory and zoning changes to encourage development in the area. 

According to Givens, the segment of Mill Bay Road between Kodiak High School, located at 722 Mill Bay Road., and Walmart, located at 2911 Mill Bay Road, has a significant number of brownfields, though he could not confirm a specific number due to the early stages of the environmental site assessment process. 

Attendees at the town hall meeting included Jerrol and Brenda Friend, owners of Friend Contractors, who own 1918 and 1950 Mill Bay Road; Dan Rohrer, borough mayor, who owns property at 2017 and 2191 Mill Bay Road.; Mark Anderson, chief financial officer of Brechen Construction, located at 2705 Mill Bay Road; and Jaime Flores, plant manager of Petro Marine, which also operates the Petro Express located at 2597 Mill Bay Road. 

When asked about their concerns for development of the corridor, they mentioned accessibility, utilities, high construction costs and building aesthetics, among other concerns.

Some said housing is not compatible with the interests of business owners on Mill Bay Road.

“Every time we burn with a burn permit, the trailer park next door calls,” Brenda Friend said, referring to a trailer park located at 1912 Mill Bay Road.

Anderson agreed, saying that Mill Bay is largely viewed by the public as Kodiak’s business corridor.  

“This should be developed as business in the future, and residential may a secondary,” he said.

Rohrer said that approximately 13,000 cars pass by Safeway and Walmart every day, pointing to the business opportunities that arise from the significant traffic on the road.

According to an  analysis prepared for the brownfields project by Agnew::Beck Consulting, the Kodiak Urban Area includes 3,816 housing units. In the next 10 years, the company predicts the community will need 293 additional housing units. 

Another issue addressed was building aesthetics. 

“Back in the ’60s, that was a dirt road. It was where the fishermen stored stuff,” Welty said. “It’s continued on. Even though the community is evolving, some of the uses are not evolving.”

Rohrer said a major concern is that rent rates for commercial buildings are declining for many buildings in town, limiting revenue for property owners.

“Part of the problem is there’s not the excess cash flow on a lot of these buildings to put a lot of money into, ‘Let’s pave a new parking lot or let’s repaint the building or reside it,’” Rohrer said. “There’s some of that being done in that corridor, but most of it is not being done for economic reasons. It’s because people that own the properties are like ‘I can’t bear to own this property and have it look like a slum.’”

Rohrer said that while rental rates for residential buildings in Kodiak are relatively high for the state, commercial building rental rates are low. Rohrer noted that some streetfront properties on Mill Bay Road rent for 75 cents per square foot. In Anchorage, he said, some properties are rented for $4 per square foot.

Rohrer added that the glideslope restrictions, due to the proximity of Mill Bay Road to the Kodiak Municipal Airport, add financial hurdles for property owners along the road, noting that he cannot build in the back 30 to 40 feet of his lots because of the restrictions.

Anderson proposed giving builders dump fee credits or tax credits to incentivize building new buildings to replace old or dilapidated buildings along the corridor. According to Jerrol and Brenda Friend, they have paid more than $100,000 in dump fees to clean up a single lot.

Givens said the feedback received from business owners would help shape the recommendations he makes for development in the area.

Representatives of Stantec will meet with a coalition of Native corporations and government entities throughout the week to receive additional feedback for the planning process. 

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