Residents filled the Kenai Peninsula Borough Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers for a public hearing regarding a controversial gravel pit in Anchor Point at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Monday, June 10, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Residents filled the Kenai Peninsula Borough Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers for a public hearing regarding a controversial gravel pit in Anchor Point at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Monday, June 10, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Planning commission postpones vote on Beachcomber gravel pit application

A meeting discussing a controversial gravel pit lasted to nearly midnight Monday, after dozens of Anchor Point residents gave public testimony on the proposed project.

Residents left the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, held at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers, without a final decision. The commission voted to postpone deliberations. A final vote regarding Emmitt Trimble’s Beachcomber LLC application will be taken June 24.

The proposed pit has been the center of a yearlong controversy between Trimble and neighboring property owners, who say borough gravel pit regulations wouldn’t adequately protect their homes from the impacts of the proposed gravel mine.

Trimble is an owner of Coastal Realty, and his family has been developing and selling property in the area for 40 years. The property, totaling around 40 acres, sits at the bottom of a natural amphitheater, 500 feet from the Anchor River and near several state parks and campgrounds. He said he wants the property’s 40 or so acres to be multiuse, with 27 acres used to mine gravel, and the oceanfront parcels untouched, as a legacy property for his daughters.

Trimble and his attorney Stacey Stone were the first to testify at the meeting. He presented a video showing a tour of the property, and the site of the potential pit.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission rarely denies gravel pit permits, but last July, Trimble’s application to excavate his Anchor Point property was denied after hours of public testimony raised concerns about potential disturbances created by the gravel pit, including impacted views, noise, dust, truck traffic and the property values of adjacent property owners. Commissioners who voted to deny the permit said it wouldn’t meet the noise and visual impact conditions even with additional buffers, according to Clarion archives.

The commission asked Trimble if he would be willing to implement several voluntary conditions, which aren’t required, but could help minimize impact. Trimble said he would be willing to use a white noise backup alarm to help noise impacts. Trimble said the condition would only apply to his own vehicles, and not machines belonging to contractors. He also agreed to use a rolling berm to alleviate visual impacts.

A handful of people spoke in support of Trimble’s application. The majority were in opposition — many were neighbors, who outlined concerns regarding noise, traffic and visual impacts of the proposed pit. Many of the testifiers questioned borough code that minimizes impacts. Neighbors who live above the proposed pit said a 6-foot berm, a requirement in the code minimizing impact for nearby property owners, wouldn’t come close to screening the pit from people living above the mine.

“Where in the code does it say that only some of the neighboring properties need to be protected by buffers and berms of sufficient height and density?” Todd Barben said at the meeting. “The applicant has publicly declared that neighbors who don’t like what they see and hear coming from his mine should utilize window shades, hearing protections and fences. Who makes the decision as to who gets sufficient visual and noise screening as is required in the code, and who gets to pull their shades and wear ear plugs in their own homes for the next 15 years?”

After the 15-year lifespan of the pit, Trimble plans to redevelop the property and build a retirement home for his family. Linda Bruce owns property “practically adjacent” to the proposed gravel pit. She said she bought the property from the Trimbles years ago.

“He says in 15 years they’ll rebuild, they’ll make it all great,” Bruce said. “I can tell you right now I may not live long enough to see that reconstituted to something really great, so I don’t want to wait 15 years to see Anchor Point rebuilt to something really great.”

Trimble’s efforts to mine the gravel on his property is well within the law, if the permit is granted. But, balancing the rights of property owners and neighbors in unzoned areas can be tricky. For property owners in unzoned areas interested in mining gravel, certain conditions in borough code must be met to get a permit, including buffers, barriers and regulations for when heavy machinery like rockcrushers can be operated. If these conditions are met, permits can be issued, despite how the conditions required in the code adequately protect neighbors.

Bruce asked the commission what the point of public comment was if permits are always granted when conditions are met.

“Is there a point to public input?” Bruce said. “Does it really have any bearing on this property? Or are we all just wasting our time because the permit will be granted because conditions are met?”

Larry Smith, who owns three gravel pits, supported Trimble’s efforts to extract gravel on his property. In his testimony, he emphasized the importance of gravel in the lives of everyone in the room.

“When I was young, man, gravel wasn’t a dirty word,” Smith said. “It seems to have become a dirty word now … Gravel is important in all of our lives. It always has been and always will be. This won’t be a popular comment, but if you don’t want to look at a gravel pit, go buy the land. If you don’t like the ordinance, change the ordinance.”

Trimble plans to preserve the original Kyllonen homestead sitting on the property. Buzz Kyllonen, who has developed property in the area for 40 years and has owned and operated 12 gravel pits, spoke in support of Trimble’s efforts.

“We should all be supporting the Trimbles for opening up some priceless resources like gravel,” he said.

After public testimony was taken, commissioners discussed what they heard. Commissioner Paul Whitney said the application was one of the more unique applications the body has seen in five years. After listening to hours of testimony and reading hundreds of letters, he said he maintains the decision to oppose the application.

Commissioner Cindy Ecklund also seemed opposed.

“A gravel pit in the middle of a recreational and residential area just doesn’t seem right,” she said. “I know we need these, but not in the middle of a recreation and residential area.”

As the time neared midnight, the group agreed to make a decision at their next meeting, June 24.

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