Sign code to get 4th hearing

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007

In response to a half dozen business owners testifying against a proposed freestanding sign ordinance, the Soldotna City Council postponed action and set a fourth public hearing on the measure.

“I’d like to ask you to table it for 90 days so I could go out and do some evaluations ... measurements,” said Norm Blakeley, co-owner of Blakeley’s Auction Company.

He was speaking during the third public hearing on the proposed ordinance, which would change the municipal code regulating height and placement of signs within the commercial district.

Among proposed changes, freestanding signs would have a 20-foot height limit and a setback limitation of 20 feet from the back of the curb. The current city code permits signs as high as 35 feet.

Cherie Curry, owner of the Crossing Restaurant, told the council she believes the dynamic of business ownership is changing, a change that affects whether existing signs should be grandfathered in.

“I don’t think people are keeping businesses for 40 years anymore,” Curry said. “They’re buying, growing and selling their businesses.

“You should consider this when you look at grandfathering (signs) for 10 years,” she said.

The proposed ordinance requires existing non-conforming signs to be brought into compliance within 10 years, and an amendment approved by the council Wednesday night provides an appeal procedure for getting a seven-year extension.

“I feel like the city is stepping on small business people’s rights,” said business owner Fred Sturman. “We can’t go raise taxes like (you) can to raise money.”

Another amendment approved Wednesday allows businesses to apply for a variance if the height or setback of the sign is within 10 percent of the new limits.

A fourth public hearing on the proposal was set for March 28.

In other business, the council appropriated $300,000 for cemetery planning, land acquisition and development.

City manager Tom Boedeker said the appropriation sets money aside in the event a suitable piece of property is located for development as a city cemetery.

The council also appropriated $100,000 for initial recovery and repair of fish walks and stairways along the Kenai River destroyed by winter ice floes.

“This is an initial appropriation,” said Boedeker. “Almost certainly, at the next meeting, you will see an additional appropriation (request).”

Appropriations of $1,150,000 and $2,752,632 were approved respectively for the purchase of land and the 2007 airport construction project, which includes building a tundra tire-ski runway, modifications to the visual guidance system and apron lighting.

Boedeker said the Federal Aviation Administration would reimburse the city for about 95 percent of the cost because the upgrades are to comply with FAA requirements.

Council members Ed Sleater and Shane Horan volunteered to be on a working group to join with the city of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough to formulate a plan for removing elevated levels of hydrocarbons from the Kenai River.

Because state regulatory agencies share responsibilities relating to the river, but no single agency can address the pollution problem, Boedeker suggested seeking relief from Gov. Sarah Palin.

“I would offer a detailed resolution that says this needs to be dealt with at the state level,” Boedeker said.

“This is the governor’s problem. She has three departments and she needs to direct who needs to take the lead,” he said, referring to the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Game.

Soldotna resident Crista Hippchen asked the council to revisit its landscaping standards, seeking to prevent residential neighborhoods from being clear cut of trees as housing subdivisions are developed.

“The city code only says 15 percent of the existing vegetation must remain,” Hippchen said.

She would like to see the council enact a comprehensive landscaping ordinance for the city.

“I think we should respond to Mrs. Hippchen,” said Council member Betty Obendorf.

“If you have a particular goal in mind, you should consider a joint session with Planning and Zoning,” said Boedeker.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek

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