Commission reviews apartment conversion again

Passes permit amid neighborhood strife

The city Planning Commission reviewed the conditional use permit allowing for two accessory apartments in single-family dwellings again on Tuesday evening, ultimately approving it.


Jim and Linda Keikkala have applied for a conditional use permit to allow for the conversion of both their home and a garage into accessory apartments. One problem is, they’re applying for the permit after the fact.

Another is the location — the property is on Hughes Way, a very narrow road with traffic flow and snow clearing issues — and it’s in a D-1 zone. Neighbors argue the accessory apartments are not in harmony with the neighborhood and by having extra traffic through the street, a public safety issue will arise it will cause a public safety issue.

The commission heard the issues at a meeting last month, and denied the permit then, asking for more information. They cited safety concerns with the fire marshal saying the road did not meet code.

The Community Development Staff came up with three additional proposed conditions after working with city staff and the fire marshal.

The three conditions proposed were: widening Hughes Way to 26 feet at the fire hydrant, providing a turn around on the applicant’s property and site access of no less than 20 feet.

Currently, the Keikkalas’ driveway ranges from 14.5 feet to 21 feet, but already provides for a large turn around.

The initial staff recommendations for conditions also include building permit modification, installing water meters and Community Development Department inspection of accessory apartment walls.

Neighbor Ralph Kibby spoke on behalf of many of the neighbors and presented a letter from a law firm to the commission. It reviewed all the prior issues the neighborhood has with the development. Kibby said the neighborhood, including the Keikkalas, are working on a Memorandum Of Understanding to develop the road to solve safety issues for everyone. Kibby urged the commission to deny the permit until the neighbors could work out the agreement because it would cost as much, if not more, to do the conditional requirements as it would to fix the road. Kibby said the city had agreed to pay 50 percent of the costs to fix that road, the Keikkalas 25 percent and he had agreed to the final 25 percent.

“This MOU is justifiable,” Kibby said. “Typically this would have to be done under a subdivision. It’s all ready to be voted on. Public works, fire chief, Dale Pernula and others have expressed this is a better alternative than trying to shove an easement approach. This is a much better approach for a lot less money. ... We have the city bending over backwards for something that’s a non-conforming use when it was built. Please postpone this until the neighbors reach an agreement.”

Kibby also pointed out that the requirements the city would impose would make access to his own driveway impassable, which means a legal action would have to transpire to fix it. With the MOU method, obstruction of his property access would be avoided.

Kibby also challenged that these new conditions would meet all safety requirements. He reminded the commission of a sewage issue, where the smell is reportedly apparent in that neighborhood. He said to add more people would increase the problem and be a detriment to the health and safety of others in the neighborhood.

Board chairman Mike Satre said their legal council advised them to focus solely on the requirements for such a permit and what is legally required by city code.

This issue has a substantial history with the neighborhood with easement agreements and other elements that the Keikkalas’ neighbors are trying to see addressed with the permitting.

The Keikkalas’ attorney, Robert Spitzfaden, said the Keikkalas are willing to meet the recommended conditions. He said the only reasons the commissioners cited they denied the first request was because of fire-code safety.

Jim Keikkala disagreed the costs of the recommended conditions would cost more than the road improvements.

Spitzfaden also disagreed the conditional improvements would block access to Kibby’s property. He said it is not a forgone conclusion, but even if it did occur the easement agreement would allow it.

The commission decided it would not get involved with the other disputes between the neighbors, but instead focus solely on whether the application meets the terms of the conditional use permit.

Commissioner Dennis Watson called for an amendment to add a condition the Keikkalas must allow for “reasonable access” in development for the Kibby’s to access their property. The amendment failed 5-2, with Commissioner Nicole Grewe in favor. Grewe focused on the conditional use process, which also addresses whether neighborhood property values would be detrimentally affected. She said if the closing off of access occurs, the Kibby’s property value would be negatively affected.

Other commissioners felt it would not be appropriate for them to impose conditions on an easement that isn’t dictated by the city or the state.

The commission then unanimously approved the permit with the six conditions, acknowledging that there is a serious neighborhood dispute. They urged the neighbors to continue working with one another to resolve the issues.

“These are the types of decisions and we know that nobody will walk away happy,” Satre said. “These are the toughest for us. We know there are multiple private issues that will be dealt with in other venues after tonight.”

Commissioner Nathan Bishop agreed, saying access issues are best handled in civil cases, not in the scope of the commission’s duty.

The commission also was to review a variance request from the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities to widen and straighten the road between North Eagle Beach Kayak Launch and Bessie Creek, which is within 330 feet of 10 eagles nests. Seven of those nests would potentially be in range of blasting debris.

The state pulled its request from the meeting Tuesday and is expected to be back on the agenda for the Commission’s second meeting in October.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

Editor's note: This article is an updated version of a story that appeared in the Sept. 28 edition of the Empire



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