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Soldotna plan worries some: Farmers concerned about potential for annexation

Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Concerns that Soldotna might engulf a portion land along Kalifornsky Beach Road were raised by a group of farmers at the last Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this month.

The city currently has no plans to annex land. But Priscilla Mott, a hay farmer who attended the Aug. 4 meeting, believes that the city's draft comprehensive plan might be a precursor to roping in an agricultural area along Kalifornsky Beach Road, close to the city.

Soldotna municipal code currently bans farming activities in residential districts, but allows general farming and agricultural practices in the Parks and Recreational and Industrial Districts, said City Planner Stephanie Queen. Residents can farm in the Rural Residential District as well, but if their lot is one and a half acres or more.

Farm animals are banned in the residential areas of the city, as well.

"You can't be raising 100 chickens in your back yard. You can't raise goats or sheep in your back yard," said councilmember Edward Sleater.

Local farmer Richard Repper considers expansion an inevitability. He finds the muncipal code vague and unprepared to deal with conflicts between neighboring zones.

"Where do we stand if a new subdivision were to pop up and they don't care for the smell of animals or the noise of tractors?" Repper asked.

Mott said that many residents moved there because of the open spaces. The spread-out nature of the area allows them to drive snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and enjoy a rural lifestyle in addition to farming.

"There are some people that want to live on a small lot with city streets and sidewalks and that's great. But not everyone wants that," she said.

The draft plan, titled Envision 2030, states that the majority of undeveloped lands in Soldotna proper are wetlands, parks or present "other development limitations."

With 545 residents per square mile, according to the draft plan, the city could use more room to breathe. The city also provides paved roads, sewage and police services that the borough, which governs the area at the moment, does not.

Some residents claim they've set up the infrastructure on their own, however.

"Right now I have everything I need. I have my own gas, electric, phone and sewer," Repper said. "To me, it would just bring more rules and regulations."

The Alaska State Local Boundary Commission has a process for cities to annex land without the consent of the current residents. Brent Williams, of the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development, said that the city must prove that the area meets a set of standards. The area in question has to benefit from local government services, have the resources to provide for them, has the population to support a local government and fits the character of the existing city.

Williams said that the commission takes into account economic factors, as well as recent shifts in population and anticipated developments, when making their decision.

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



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