The Soldotna City Council on Tuesday formally withdrew its request for a 10-acre parcel of borough land on Redoubt Avenue that it had sought for a future cemetery.
A letter from the city delivered to the borough late Tuesday morning gave no specific reason for the withdrawal, saying only that the council members “no longer have an interest in the property.” The council took its action by a unanimous 6-0 vote on Monday following an executive session.
Last year, the borough and the city reached an agreement in which the two municipalities were to trade parcels of land. That deal fell through when land owned by the city could not be relieved of a deed restriction.
The borough then proposed Ordinance 2005-50 to convey the acreage to the city of the price of $1. That nominal price, however, brought complaint from some members of the public that the borough was essentially giving away valuable land at a time when it faces severe financial problems.
Other opponents simply did not want a cemetery in their neighborhood or near an elementary school.
The ordinance was amended to require a $55,000 price tag for the 10 acres, an amount equal to the value of the land Soldotna had been prepared to trade. The 10-acre parcel was valued at around $135,000.
The ordinance gave Soldotna 180 days to accept or reject the proposal. It passed 6-3, but assembly member Grace Merkes, of Sterling, requested reconsideration at the Jan. 17 meeting.
Tuesday, the matter was brought back to the table, at which point the assembly took up the letter withdrawing Soldotna’s request. The city’s change of mind took some assembly members by surprise, considering Soldotna has long pursued creation of a municipal cemetery, and that the most recent effort at a land trade had enjoyed popular support, not to mention requiring a lot of work.
Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey expressed thanks to those who worked on the land trade deal, and subsequently, on the ordinance to convey the land for a nominal fee. He said he had been involved in the cemetery effort for nearly five years.
“We have requested and directed our city manager (Tom Boedeker) to look at other options,” Carey told the assembly, adding Soldotna would continue to pursue a cemetery.
He asked the assembly not to move forward with the ordinance.
Assembly member Milli Martin said she was stunned when she got a copy of the city’s letter.
“I know how much work went into this,” she said. “I know how many times we were appealed to, how many people came down here and talked to us about this. If I understood it correctly, you said there’s no longer any interest. I’d like to understand why.”
“I appreciate your request. I really can’t discuss things,” Carey said. “The reason I’m saying that is that in the last five days we have had two executive sessions in which we discussed that, and obviously I cannot discuss what went on.”
Martin said that was unfortunate, adding she wished the discussion could be shared.
“I think there is a little more to this story than what we’ve heard,” she said.
Assembly President Ron Long said prior to the vote to reconsider that the letter appeared to say “give (the land) to us for nothing or we don’t want it.”
Assembly member Deb Germano, of Homer, said she was disappointed about Soldotna’s decision.
“I guess I’d like to see us move (the ordinance) forward as it is,” she said, adding the ordinance gave Soldotna six months’ time to consider the offer and $55,000 price.
“Time to really think it out,” she said.
The assembly voted 3-5 to defeat the land-deal ordinance, however. Germano, Martin and assembly member Dan Chay, of Kenai, cast the three yes votes.
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