Soldotna council tries to aid property owners in DOT conflict

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

The Soldotna City Council passed two measures Wednesday that would give at least partial relief to business owners who think the state of Alaska is giving them a bum deal.

The measures, one a resolution and the other a request from the Planning and Zoning Commission, stem from a dispute between Soldotna property owners and the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DOT officials contends that several businesses along the Sterling Highway have either signs or buildings that encroach on DOT's right of way along the highway.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey introduced a resolution that called on DOT to relax restrictions along the highway. Property owners believe that since DOT has no current plans to build in the rights of way, they should not have to incur the high cost of moving signs or altering their property.

The council heard from Soldotna business owners who were frustrated by DOT's lack of cooperation on the matter.

"What I'm trying to do is hit medium ground between the public and the DOT," said Don Johnson, who, along with his brother Jim, owns Johnson Brothers Fishing Guides in Soldotna.

The Johnsons say they are the target of a lawsuit by the DOT trying to get them to move a sign on their property. Johnson said he has no problem with the DOT wanting to keep a right of way. The problem is the DOT making him move his sign when it's not necessary.

"All I want is to get the DOT to basically vacate the excess ground that is not being used by the DOT currently," Johnson said.

Council members said they were supportive of the business owners, but didn't know how much passing the resolution would help.

"I'm very supportive of this. (But) I just don't think the state will care at all," said council member Sharon Moock.

Carey agreed that the city had little real authority to help.

"We're trying to help citizens of the community, although is is difficult to help in this case," Carey said.

The council was able to grant property owners some small relief however.

The council granted a request by the Planning and Zoning Commission to waive permit fees in the event property owners do have to relocate signs along the highway.

Both measures passed the council without objection.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

n Listened to a presentation by Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael on the trip he took to the 2002 Arctic Winter Games.

Soldotna has been active in the early bid process for bringing the 2006 AWG to the peninsula.

n Heard testimony from Jennifer Beckmann of Central Area Rural Transit System. Beckmann told the council that the public transportation program continues to grow, and that she hopes the council would consider increasing its level of funding for the project. Last year the city of Soldotna contributed $5,000 to the program.

n Held a discussion on how the city should deal with the problem of having to handle animals that come to animal control from outside city limits. The possibility of asking the borough to help defray the cost of processing non-city animals or working with other cities to get funding from the borough was discussed.

However, the council decided it would be premature to move on the issue at this time.

n Authorized the purchase of a new police vehicle to replace the one totaled in an accident.

n Heard from Mayor Carey on the status of the Knight Drive Wall Painting Project. Carey said the plan is to paint the wall red, white and blue, then have Soldotna-area high school seniors and first graders put their hand prints on the wall. Carey said the tentative plan is to do the painting on May 4 and 11.

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