Soldotna land-use battle brewing

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

If Michele DeMilta had 3,920.4 more square feet to her property in Soldotna, she wouldn't be in the situation she is.

After a solid year of back and forth between her and the city, the Planning and Zoning Commission last month decided she may not keep livestock -- specifically two horses and eight chickens -- on her Chugach Drive property in the Slikok Subdivision.

The problem with DeMilta keeping livestock on her property is that her lot, at 1.41 acres, is less than the 1.5 acres required for keeping farm animals under city code. The .09-acre difference is 3,920.4 square feet, or the size of a moderately large home. The city's figure of 1.41 acres comes from Kenai Peninsula Borough plats.

DeMilta said she moved to the subdivision in 1995 and has had livestock, including turkeys, pigs and goats, ever since.

There are two issues that irk DeMilta about the situation. One is her belief that when she bought the property in 1996 it was outside city limits. The second is that a survey she had done shows her property actually measures 1.53 acres in size.

"I don't think the difference is significant at all," she said. "(Soldotna City Manager) Tom Boedeker suggested I buy one-tenth of an acre from a neighbor."

If she had the additional .09 acre, she could keep as much livestock as she wanted, until it became a public nuisance.

The issue went before the commission on May 16 after DeMilta appealed a city order to remove the animals. The city has been working with DeMilta for a year, giving her extra time to move the animals to property outside the city.

The city got involved on May 24, 2000, when DeMilta's neighbor, Robin Fisk, filed a written complaint that there may be a zoning violation on the property. At the time, there also were cattle and goats on DeMilta's land.

"I would estimate the actual space available for these animals to be about an acre, or under," Fisk's complaint reads in part.

DeMilta said the complaint came two days after one of Fisk's dogs nipped at her daughter and possibly bit her dog.

"All I wanted to know is if her dog had rabies shots, and Robin blew up," DeMilta said Tuesday.

Fisk declined to comment for this story.

Fisk's complaint was the only written one the city received, though Anna Johnson, an administrative assistant with Planning and Zoning, testified before the commission that she also had received telephone complaints. She said she also received a phone call from another neighbor, who had no objection to DeMilta's animals. Johnson said the city only responds to written complaints.

According to Johnson, DeMilta has requested a variance to the code to allow her to keep her horses on her property. The request was originally scheduled to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, but it has been postponed until July 18.

"I requested more information from her and haven't received it yet," Johnson said Tuesday morning.

DeMilta said the missing information is an as-built survey, showing the locations of improvements on the property.

At the May 16 hearing before the commission, Boedeker stated he would not recommend the commission approve a variance in this case.

"Tom needs to leave me alone, I'm not hurting anyone," DeMilta said. "I'm not mad, except I would like this over with. This is way out of control, way out of proportion."

She said "fighting city hall" has taken up a large amount of her time and finances and has interfered with her operation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the Kenai Peninsula, which she founded. DeMilta said she does not keep rescued animals at her home, but rather places them with volunteer foster homes.

Her SPCA is not associated with the SPCA of Alaska in Anchorage or the American SPCA, headquartered in New York City, because neither licenses nor sanctions local SPCAs, according to spokespersons from each organization.

"It's real hard for me to try and do what I have to when I have to keep stopping and dealing with all this," DeMilta said.

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