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Soldotna plots future: City residents take opportunity to critique comprehensive plan

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2010

Soldotna residents had another chance to comment on the Envision Soldotna 2030 comprehensive plan last Thursday.

The meeting began as an open house for residents to look over the plan before workshops on specific topics in the draft later in the day. Residents commented on a number of the plan's stated goals.

Mark Beilfuss supported annexing subdivisions in theory, but he wanted to know when sewage and water systems would become available to residents in the areas. Jim Harris dislikes the plan's recommendation to increase condos and apartment complexes.

"I don't want an apartment complex dropped in the middle of a proven neighborhood," he said.

Beilfuss expressed interest in the expansion of the city's trail system. He said that the city should keep safeguarding the river in mind when expanding.

"With a denser population the city should do more to protect the environment," he said. "The river makes the city."

Bettie Lawson said that the city should expand the health care sector, as recommended in the plan. Lawson said that the creation of a nursing school would encourage growth in the sector and draw in a younger population.

She thought the council should offer incentives to draw large retailers into the city.

"Why does Kenai get all the big stuff?" Lawson said, referring to Walmart and Lowe's.

Lawson said that the city should try to bring in more orchestras and cultural groups. She and her husband said that they have to drive to Kenai for their musical fix.

City Planner Stephanie Queen said that the meeting helped fine-tune the plan and fix the wording to help reflect the public's interest. Queen considered most of the changes to be "semantic" in nature.

If the Planning and Zoning Commission approves the plan, the city council will decide whether or not to adopt it. Then the borough planning commission and assembly will consider the comprehensive plan. If the borough approves of the document, Queen said that the city would use the plan to "guide policy."

The previous 1995 plan recommended that the city develop a downtown district, use the airport to boost economic development and create recreation areas, like Soldotna Creek Park and community playgrounds. The plan also called for a city cemetery, which the council recently finished planning.

Council member Brenda Hartman said that she's interested in creating a downtown area. Hartman also hopes to make the city more bike and pedestrian friendly. She also wants the city to focus on environmental protections for the river.

"We should make sure it stays healthy," she said.

Mayor Peter Micciche said that the new plan will help the council because the old plan doesn't take into account many changes in the city. Micchiche said that the draft plan focuses on increasing the health sector which accounts for a large portion of Soldotna's tax revenue. The previous plan focused on developing the two highways to encourage city business.

John Czarnezki, who sits on the planning commission, said that Soldotna should diversify uses at the airport, draw in large retailers and evaluate the appropriateness of industrial zones along the Kenai, which he said the city should feature more prominently.

"You drive through Soldotna and don't realize it's on the river until you're across the bridge," he said.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.



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