A desire by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to explore development on a chunk of land east of Cooper Landing is causing concern from some who say the community has long opposed development in the area.
The land — called Unit 395 or Juneau Bench — encompasses about 1,000 acres and is managed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. It will also be bisected by a portion of the Cooper Landing Bypass Project, which aims to reduce congestion and improve safety on the Sterling Highway through Cooper Landing.
That project, when completed, will add 10 miles of road starting at about Milepost 46.5 off the Sterling Highway and will cross Juneau Creek via a steel arch bridge before rejoining the highway around Milepost 56. Construction is already underway, with final completion tentatively scheduled for 2027.
The new highway will also cut through an existing network of U.S. Forest Service logging roads, which the State of Alaska is required to maintain, and that also fall within the boundaries of Unit 395. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has asked the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to include on and off ramps from the new highway to those logging roads, but some residents fear the move opens the door to additional development in the area.
That’s according to a Feb. 22, 2021, letter from Kenai Peninsula Borough Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller to Sean Holland, the former project manager for the bypass project. Mueller wrote in the letter that the ramps will provide needed access to the existing logging road in addition to being cost effective.
Mueller said Thursday that in addition to asking that the state put the on and off ramps on Unit 395, the borough is also looking to bring in a professional planning firm to explore potential ways of developing the area. His guess is that some of it could become residential while other parts be retained for recreation.
Mueller said he knows there are people in the community who oppose commercial development within Unit 395, which is why the process includes ample opportunity for public input. The issue has come up now due to the construction progress being made on the bypass project.
“We’re committed to this planning process, the idea being that the planning process has been designed to gather information and gather input and then come up with plans that people can see and give feedback on,” Mueller said.
Cheryle James owns Wildman’s in Cooper Landing and serves as the president of the Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. She says residents made their position on development at Unit 395 clear in 1996, when residents incorporated into a land management plan their opposition to bypass access points other than where it joins the existing road.
“There is to be NO access to or from the new alignment other than the departure from the existing road at either end of the bypass,” the plan says. “The NO ACCESS issue is not a matter taken lightly by the community.”
The plan cites concerns about diverting traffic away from Cooper Landing businesses and the resulting harm it would have on local businesses. Those concerns haven’t gone away.
“We don’t want another town to start building up there,” James said Thursday.
James said she’s also worried about the strain new development would put on Cooper Landing’s already diminutive maintenance crews as well as the additional noise the bypass generally will bring to the area.
“You know, we all live here,” she said.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.