Cemetery land deal reached

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday evening finally put to rest the seemingly eternal Soldotna cemetery land conveyance issue.

The assembly decided to sell an approximately 10-acre land parcel on West Redoubt to the city of Soldotna for $2. Soldotna will use the plot to develop an approximately 17-acre cemetery, which has been a discussion topic for nearly a decade.

The issue has garnered much talk recently, and the price of the land has been the most contested issue. The debate has centered mostly on finding the balance between fiscal conservatism and maximizing public benefit.

The 10 acres have been assessed at $413,800. The original version of the borough ordinance would have allowed the assembly to authorize selling the land to Soldotna for $55,000. A failed amendment to the ordinance made at the Feb. 2 meeting proposed selling the land for $1.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey submitted a substitute ordinance Tuesday afternoon that proposed immediately selling five acres of land to Soldotna for $1 while holding off negotiations of selling the additional 4.5 acres.

An animated Assembly President Pete Sprague, who introduced the original ordinance, expressed his frustrations with the mayor's late-arriving substitute proposal.

"I'm feeling pretty blindsided by this," Sprague said. "In my mind, we're just talking dollars here again. I don't understand the machinations here.

"Let's take care of this tonight. Let's move forward."

Sprague said it doesn't make sense to provide only half of the land when Soldotna's final development plan for the cemetery is contingent on having the entire 10 acres.

Carey said he was just trying to present another potential option.

"I don't think it is bad faith to say we looked at options," Carey said. "The substitute allows them (Soldotna) to immediately move forward and come up with a plan for the future."

Carey said he is in no way against a burial grounds in Soldotna.

"I have ashes in my home waiting for this cemetery."

Soldotna leaders said the city would like the borough's 10 acres to develop the kind of facility that they have in mind - a facility complete with a gazebo, ample parking, walking trails and restrooms.

Citizens and Soldotna City Council members spoke out in favor of the cemetery Tuesday night.

"I'm very much interested in this cemetery that Soldotna has waited so very long for," said Soldotna resident Katherine Parker. "I do hope the plans we have in place now will come to fruition."

Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche asked the assembly not to vote in favor of the mayor's substitute ordinance.

The assembly voted down Carey's proposal Tuesday evening, and voted in favor of Assembly Vice President Hal Smalley's amendment to sell the land for $2.

"I'm ready to take that giant leap right now. I'm happy with what I've heard," Smalley said. "I have absolutely with no problem with this conveyance of public land for a public purpose."

Central Representative Paul Fischer vocalized his concerns with essentially giving Soldotna the land. If Soldotna said it was willing to pay $55,000 for the land, why should the borough sell it for less, Fischer argued.

"It's usually negotiated the other way," he said. "I think I'm going to get a car for $4,000 and tell the dealer I want to pay $10,000."

Ultimately, the body strayed away from Fischer's philosophy and aligned itself more with the thinking represented by South Peninsula Representative Mako Haggerty.

"I don't see this as us giving land to Soldotna. This is really Soldotna stepping forward to manage this land for the borough," Haggerty said. "It's a cemetery for residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. I don't understand why it's contentious."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com

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