Soldotna's Planning and Zoning Commission decided Wednesday not to recommend a rezoning of several lots at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Pace Street after neighborhood residents spoke out against the change.
Property owner Clint Hall had submitted an application last month to rezone four lots from rural residential to limited commercial districts, an alteration that would open the door for various commercial entities -- such as restaurants, bars, retail businesses, and coffee houses -- to move into the area.
Pace Street residents Timothy Cashman Jr. and Leslie Rohr attended the Wednesday night meeting with 17 of their neighbor's signatures in hand, ready to defend the integrity of their community.
"I see nothing but disaster ahead of us if this is allowed to continue," said Rohr, who doesn't want even more traffic zooming past homes where children frequently play outside.
"It's not conducive for what the neighborhood was sold to us as," she added.
Cashman and Rohr claim the vicinity has already seen a spike in traffic with the introduction of St. Elias Brewing Company, since Sharkathmi Road winds into a loop that connects with Pace Street and many drivers use this route to access the restaurant and the highway.
In the letter including the neighborhood signatures Cashman wrote, "What may appear attractive on a color-coded map will harm a very valuable resource: the homes in which we live." He went on to describe the "very dangerous" and "extremely damaging" repercussions the potential rezone would have on the community, including straining the ill-maintained Pace Street, which is unpaved and has no sidewalks or off-street paths for pedestrians to use.
In another letter, submitted by the Rohrs, the couple wrote that they found "the prospect of commercial business as 'neighbors' contrary to what the subdivision was touted to be by the developer," which was a quiet, upscale subdivision with views of Soldotna Creek.
"This was to be our retirement home," they wrote, "a place where our grandchildren could run and play without worry of heavy traffic. Our plans have changed; we are now raising two special needs grandchildren. Their safety and that of their playmates is (our) priority."
The commission split on the issue, voting 4-3 against recommending the rezone to the Soldotna City Council.
Commissioner Marilyn Kebschull said that she understands the concerns of the area residents, but that she found Hall's application for a rezone to be completely in line with the criteria outlined in the land use section of Soldotna's Envision 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Kebschull said it would set a "disappointing" precedent if the commission decided against the rezone.
Cashman mentioned during his testimony that a rumor is going around that Hall wants to lease space to some sort of hair salon, but Kebschull says that kind of information is irrelevant.
"When people start talking about who owns property and what might be proposed there, we're not supposed to look at that," she said. "We're supposed to look at strictly the zoning that's proposed and the comprehensive plan. I try to be really black and white and not get into the personal issues."
"We make a zone change because it's a good thing for the City of Soldotna," not just for a specific individual, concurred Commissioner Colleen Denbrock.
City Planner Stephanie Queen said that the next step in this process is to notify Hall of the commission's decision. From there, he can choose to revoke his petition or have it forwarded to the city council.
"If he wishes to continue on," said Queen, "then we'll put together the records from the meeting and forward it to the council as an ordinance," which would entail another public hearing.
A third option was also brought up at the meeting, which included considering whether Hall could apply for a conditional use permit for his individual development instead of rezoning the entire area.
"That might take care of the project that is his immediate need," Queen said. "We'd have to know what was planned and what kind of use the tenant would be opening up there."
If Hall decides to continue with the process, the ordinance regarding the rezone would come before council on June 8.
Karen Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.
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