The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly has voted down a rezone appeal that would have allowed business use on two Otmeloi Way lots, but the public hearing led to discussion about future land use in that neighborhood.  

The Assembly voted down an appeal during a public hearing last week by Lucas and Amira Baxter to rezone two lots totaling almost 6.5 acres on Otmeloi Way from rural residential one classification to business. 

The Baxters wanted to rezone the property they own in the Miller Point subdivision in order to allow for the retail sale of fishing supplies, a net mending service and to store and offer for sale rope, line and hardware used by the fishing industry.

One of the lots has a single-family home and garage on it.

The commission denied the rezone request in a unanimous vote on June 16, citing a few factors — including that the Baxter property isn’t adjacent to other business-zoned properties and was surrounded by “residential properties which could be negatively affected by commercial use of the area.” 

Borough code establishes rural residential one zoning as “a land use district for large lot, low-density, residential and general agricultural purposes” that prohibits commercial and industrial land uses.

Other findings included the parcel location not being in a commercial corridor area and not being not consistent with the 2008 Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Designation.

During last week’s appeal Lucas Baxter disputed some of the findings, arguing that two businesses already operate in the area, including Island Lake Sawmill and Kodiak Dog Kennels, which operates under a home-based business variance. 

Baxter said he wasn’t present at the June 16 commission hearing, where he would have been able to answer questions.

“I understand that it is historically not zoned for business but there is a historic, hopefully profitable business,” Baxter said, referring to the sawmill. 

Baxter said that the traffic already in the area would show that the parcel, in effect, is already in a commercial corridor.

“I could stand from the edge of my property with a fairly decent sized rock and hit KEA’s industrial storage yard, which stores transformers and you name it,” Baxter said. “Obviously it is not directly in that corridor, but we are a stone’s throw away from an industrial corridor.”

Baxter also noted that traffic continues to go through the area due to North Star Elementary’s proximity, as do logging trucks and other heavy vehicles.

He said the intent of the rezone “isn’t to be a big business with 10 cars, or 50 cars, a day.”

“It is to give us supplemental storage,” Baxter said. “I also see a need for our fishing community to lay out trawl and seine nets and not at the city docks where we have to spar for space with cruise ships, fuel barges and NOAA boats and whoever else gets to use the docks.” 

Some residents who live in the area opposed rezoning Baxter’s property due to the precedent it could set for future rezoning cases.

Resident Shelley Paulson told the assembly he wasn’t against Baxter’s proposed use itself.

“It’s not what he wants to do with the property, it’s the future use of the property and the area,” Paulson said. “It will be a no-holds barred where 35 different types of businesses can come in there in a community that is supposed to be low density.”

She also encouraged the assembly to abide by its land-use policy and “not usurp the future in little bits.”

Resident Arnold Hansen, whose property abuts the Baxter’s lot, agreed with Paulson’s argument.

“As residents, we don’t want it to go business,” Hansen said. “We realize the applicant has said it won’t be a big business, but once the area goes business, it’s done.”

As a resident, Hansen said his concern was “what could happen there” if Baxter’s property were rezoned for business. 

“It’s a neighborhood that has a school and a wonderful place to build more homes,” Hansen said. “We have a problem with residential availability and people complain that we don’t have enough residential homes.”

Hansen, who also examines and inspects buildings for the City of Kodiak, said that under current borough code, Baxter could use 25% of the garage for storage. He said “that garage is illegal as it stands right now because it does not meet borough code.”



The assembly was split down the middle on the decision, with half wanting to send it back to the planning and zoning commission, and others upholding the commission’s decision. The split vote required Borough Mayor Bill Roberts to two tie-breakers, and he ultimately ruled 4-3 in favor of denying the appeal.

Assembly Member Julie Kavanaugh motioned to have the item sent back to the planning and zoning commission for reconsideration. She said based on the packet for the zoning request, commissioners had several questions that went unanswered on June 16.

“If we remand it back to planning and zoning, the commission could review those questions,” Kavanaugh said. “I also understand we lacked staff from community development that could have helped the applicant with his application to meet different criteria.” 

Assembly Member Dennis Symmons supported the rezone, calling it an example of a “stale” comprehensive land-use plan. He also supported Kavanaguh’s motion as a possible alternative.

“We as a governing body have failed to address our comprehensive plan for a long time,” Symmons said. “The reason why I support this rezone is because I see this area as a business corridor and as a great place for this type of business.”

He said he doesn’t think “the Baxters are asking for the moon with this small business.”

Assembly Member Scott Arndt supported upholding the planning commission’s decision.

“This is spot zoning, and planning and zoning is not going to come to another conclusion,” Arndt said. “The other contiguous properties would have to go to business before this one does.” 

Roberts said didn’t have a problem with what the Baxters want to do with the land, but he sided with residents who said rezoning it as a business would open it up to more rezones to business.

“This is a rezone, not about letting someone store nets or anything else,” Roberts said. 

Kavanaugh also asked whether a designation under “similar use” would aid Baxter, rather than an outright rezone. She said Rural Residential One zoning allows for storage of agricultural gear, which includes fishing equipment. 

“I think the minor difference is they (the Baxters) want to classify as a business, but they could store nets and all those things they are talking about under RR1,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s dismaying to me that they are trying to do this through the zoning process and could potentially be disallowed because of that process.”

Seema Garoutte, the borough assessor and acting head of the community development department, said if Baxter wants to use the property for storage alone there was no need to go through a business rezone the area. The only requirement to rezone it was due to the application’s intent to set up a retail business.

“If the applicant wants to set it up as a home-based business, he would be required to live in that single-family residence on the property, and I don’t believe he does,” Garouttee said. 

Assembly Member James Turner said there was no need to have a business designation so long as Baxter used it for storage only.

“To me, it would be in the best interest of him (Baxter) to just drop it,” Turner said. 

A vote was called to send it back to the planning and zoning commission, resulting in a split vote. Kavanaugh, Symmons and Turner supported the motion, while Arndt and Assembly Members Geoff Smith and Aimee Williams voted no. Roberts voted no as the tie-breaker.

Arndt called to uphold the planning and zoning commission decision. He said the sawmill would likely “go away in five years and the plan by the property owner is to subdivide it into residential lots.”

Arndt said the sawmill was there before anything else, and has been grandfathered into the borough code. 

“As a grandfathered lot, only the sawmill is allowed there, not business,” Arndt said. “It’s not like anyone can turn it into a mechanic’s shop or a retail-based — just the lumber produced on sight there.”

The vote to uphold the commission’s decision passed 4-3, with Roberts again serving as the tie-breaker. Kavanaugh, Symmons and Turner voted no, while Roberts, Arndt, Smith and Williams voted yes.

“I believe we have to uphold the planning and zoning decision because that’s why they’re there, and I believe they did all their due diligence,” Roberts said. 

Kavanaugh, while voting no on Arndt’s motion, said she understood the concern behind it. However, she said not all residents were against rezoning the Baxter property for business.

“I do hope the applicant finds another way of fulfilling his desire to provide services to the fishing industry,” Kavanaugh said. “I do find it better for private businesses to provide those services.”

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