It's back to the airport property for the city of Soldotna in its seemingly never ending search for a cemetery -- and even that's on hold for the time being.
The city council at its meeting Wednesday failed to pass a resolution recommending several privately owned parcels on Knight Drive for development of a memorial park.
While the most recent direction from the council to city administration is to develop the airport site, Councilman Shane Horan asked City Manager Larry Semmens to draft a resolution for the council to consider the West Redoubt property.
Semmens said he would do so, but also asked for the council to give him a firm decision on how to proceed with the airport property should the new resolution fail.
The Knight Drive property was presented to the council as a compromise location after voters last fall overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative asking the council to consider a city-owned parcel on West Redoubt Avenue.
"I interpreted (the vote) to mean we made a serious mistake to identify the airport property as a cemetery," said Councilman Jim Stogsdill, who served on the Unified Community Memorial Park Committee, the most recent body tasked with identifying a cemetery location. "This committee was able to identify Knight Drive ... as maybe not the best suitable place, but a suitable place."
Stogsdill said the committee voted to present the Knight Drive property as an alternative to the airport site and the West Redoubt site.
Soldotna's Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the Knight Drive resolution in a special meeting Tuesday, though Councilwoman Betty Obendorf said three of the members called the Knight Drive property their second choice, their first being West Redoubt.
It was a theme that was echoed throughout the evening by people for and against the resolution.
"Is there a way the people of Soldotna can petition the city to reconsider the Redoubt property?" said Linda O'Brien during the public comment period at the end of the meeting. "The Redoubt property is the No. 1 site. Why can't we have the best?"
Horan made that request at the conclusion of the meeting.
While some speakers cited the West Redoubt location as the top choice of a previous cemetery task force, the Knight Drive property also was cited as a strong second choice for multiple task forces.
"All the task forces agreed the Knight Drive property is worthy of a good, hard look," Stogsdill said.
The resolution failed on a 3-2 vote. It needed four votes to pass. Stogsdill, Shea Hutchings and Ed Sleater voted in favor. Obendorf and Horan were opposed.
Councilman Scott McLane did not vote due to a conflict of interest. One of the Knight Drive parcels under consideration was donated to the Soldotna Church of God by McLane's family. According to McLane, a deed restriction on the parcel would entitle his family to a percentage of the proceeds should the property be sold for a nonchurch use.
In voting against the resolution, Obendorf said her concerns include the cost of purchasing land when the city already owns suitable parcels, particularly during difficult financial times. The West Redoubt and airport parcels are city-owned.
She also expressed concerns about the process by which the West Redoubt property was taken off the table for consideration, and said she felt the recommendation of Soldotna voters had been disregarded.
"I think we bowed to pressure from people motivated by selfish concerns," Obendorf said.
Horan cited the potential cost of $300,000 to $400,000 to purchase and develop the Knight Drive property, and the fact that the West Redoubt property had been the top pick of a previous task force and approved by Planning and Zoning.
"I think the Redoubt site is an appropriate site," Horan said. "... I don't believe a cemetery at the Redoubt site would detract from neighboring parcels."
Also of concern was a requirement enacted by the council that the cemetery not be located within 500 yards of a school. Much of the Knight Drive property is within 500 yards of Soldotna High School.
"We had to swallow that part and hope it would be figured out" by the council, said Nancy Eoff, a member of the cemetery committee.
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche expressed disappointment that the council failed to recommend the Knight Drive property, which he said he viewed as a good compromise to the other two parcels.
"I think the most important thing is, as a community, to sit down and compromise on a site for a cemetery," he said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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