When Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing relocated to the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kobuk Street in 2005, owners Brian, Scott, and Paul Miller had big plans for their new building.
The Millers envisioned a two-story, 25,000-30,000 square foot store where they could offer their customers everything from fishing and hunting equipment to clothing and rain gear. But Soldotna's stringent zoning requirements, which mandated one parking spot for every 200 square feet of retail space, quickly put the kibosh on that idea.
With only so much land to work with, the Millers were forced to devote more space to parking spots than they wanted or needed, and now have a single-story, 20,000 square foot store.
"We had to build our business based on the parking, not build our business the way we wanted to," said co-owner and operator Brian Miller. "It actually made our business smaller."
"We've always wanted to do more hunting," chimed in Brian's brother Scott. "Which frankly, because we couldn't do it, brought other companies to town. So where that was our plan initially, now we have a new competitor frankly because of parking."
On an average day, a handful of cars and trucks can be seen peppering the hardware store's expansive parking lot. Scott said that for 11-and-a-half months out of the year, it's plenty empty.
The city ordinance also roadblocked another local business, Homestead Jewelers & Gifts, which had to cut down on its desired retail space to make room for more largely vacant asphalt.
Much to the Millers' delight, the Soldotna City Council passed an ordinance last week that significantly eases parking codes. Now, businesses must have one spot for every 300 square feet of space, a ratio much more in line with a community of Soldotna's size.
Councilmember Kyle Fisher supported the ordinance, claiming that the positive effects of the change will be two-fold.
"One, you're going to encourage people to beautify their lots -- a lot of buffer zones between roads, sidewalks, and parking lots, trees, grass," Fisher said. "The other thing you're going to allow is you're going to give businesses the opportunity to expand their buildings because they're not going to be worried about having all this empty concrete so people can park."
The beautification aspect is just as important as the prospective expansion, as anyone who has been to Soldotna knows that the city's main drag is dominated by black, barren oceans of asphalt with practically non-existent vegetation.
"If you look at that entire commercial zone from the Y to the bridge and from the Y to the border of Soldotna, we've paved the entire thing," Mayor Peter Micciche observed.
Micciche has been working on modifying the parking code for three years now, and is glad that the council passed the ordinance unanimously, allowing businesses, the city, and the environment to reap the benefits.
"Ultimately it ends up not only costing the business by limiting their retail space," he said of the old law, "but it costs the city because of the lost sales tax revenue and it costs the environment because there's nothing remaining from which you can landscape or leave natural vegetation."
Zach Henry, co-owner of St. Elias Brewing Company, also supports the new ordinance, as he has entertained thoughts of expanding his business to include packaging beer for distribution across the state. This would almost certainly necessitate the construction of more building space.
"We're all about businesses popping up in town," said Henry of the ordinance's pro-local business agenda. "I'd hate for somebody to have a piece of ground and have an idea -- like say what we're doing -- not have the required parking spots, and then not be able to open a new business in Soldotna."
The Millers are already taking advantage of the change by eliminating two of their parking spaces in favor of constructing a small, separate cabin-esque structure to provide information on charters and fishing reports. And they say that expanding the original building -- perhaps by creating a nursery or second floor -- has been a long time coming, and that the council's passing of the new ordinance only brings their plans closer to realization.
"We're excited that they did that and that they're thinking about the small business coming in here and investing their money in this town," Scott said. "It really helps us out."
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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