Soldotna widow Sandra Hetzler wonders what to do now that the city has ordered her and her son, Shaun Nichols, in background, to stop building a guest cabin on her property in the Rinehart Subdivision. Hetzler planned to use the cabin and another Nichols would build as a bed and breakfast to supplement her income.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
After struggling through the Soldotna bureaucracy and piloting her way through neighborhood flak, a financially strapped widow has given up the fight to erect two guest cabins on her lot for supplemental income.
Sandra Hetzler, who was widowed last year when her husband, Dick, died after a long illness, was finding it difficult to make house payments on her home in the Rinehart Subdivision near Swiftwater Park.
Her son, Shaun Nichols, a carpenter, suggested he build two 12-foot by 20-foot wooden cabins on Hetzler’s lot on Jay Street where a carport once occupied space next to her home.
The plan was Hetzler would operate the cabins as a bed and breakfast business, catering to high-end clients of Kenai River fishing guides, many who were Nichols’ friends.
Eager to get started, Nichols began plying his skills to rough hewn beetle-kill spruce boards, without first obtaining the required city building permit.
When he and his mother went to city hall to inquire about building inspections for gas and electrical hookups, Hetzler said they were told they needed a building permit, and that it was OK to build the cabins.
To the mother and son’s surprise, a group of neighbors who own riverfront property along Griffin Avenue, which runs perpendicular to Jay Street, protested.
When Hetzler sought a conditional use permit from the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission in mid-June, commission staffers agreed the proposed “recreational lodge” would not generate any more traffic than a bed and breakfast; neighboring property values would not change until the market reacts to the presence of the cabins; no additional city services would be required; and it did not appear the lodge would be harmful to public safety or welfare.
Neighbors, however, disagreed.
By definition, the cabins are considered a lodge, not a B&B. City code states that to be a bed and breakfast establishment, the structure must be owner occupied.
Sonja Burch testified during the public hearing that she contacted 24 owners of private lots in the subdivision “who are in strong opposition” to the issuance of a conditional use permit.
William and Cheryl Toppa said in seeking to build their retirement home in the Rinehart Subdivision, they expected the area “to remain a quiet residential area, and not turn into a recreational area.”
Thelma Antila expressed concern that Hetzler’s guests would wander through Antila’s property on Griffin Avenue to access the Kenai River, as campers from Swiftwater Park did before a gate was installed.
Carolyn Pennino, who, with her husband, built a retirement home on Griffin Avenue, said she opposed the conditional use permit because a person wanting to purchase property for recreational use could learn from the city whether such use were permitted prior to buying.
Pennino testified that a majority of property owners signed a petition to have the area rezoned from rural residential to single family-two family residential.
After a number of residents spoke to the planners, City Manager Tom Boedeker said he did not believe the conditional use permit could be issued to Hetzler because only one principle structure and one ancillary structure are allowed in a residential zone.
Hetzler’s plan called for two additional, principle structures, he said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the permit.
“When I first talked to the city, they said I was zoned for (a B and B),” Hetzler said on Wednesday.
“Then after all these people went there, they said I wasn’t. I’d like to know what changed,” she said.
One of the two cabins is nearly finished, with mostly interior work remaining to be done.
“They said I can go ahead and finish and then put it up for sale,” Nichols said.
“I don’t understand why it’s OK to build cabins on the lot, but not run a bed a breakfast,” he said Wednesday.
Anna Johnson, administrative assistant to the Planning and Zoning Commission, said, “They’ve been told they can’t build there.
“I’m going to go to the (city) manager and order them to stop,” she said.
At a July 6 Planning and Zoning meeting, the soft-spoken Hetzler did not want to speak up on her own behalf.
A neighbor and friend, Susan Waalkes, who owns a summer home on Griffin Avenue with her husband, Keith, did speak.
The outspoken Susan Waalkes challenged most of the arguments posed by the protesting homeowners, as well as challenging commission staffers.
She said the Toppas no longer have a quiet residential area “because they cut down all their trees.”
Waalkes questioned Antila’s fear of trespassers saying, “Paying customers rarely cause trouble,” referring to guests who would be paying to stay in Hetzler’s cabins.
Waalkes said, “No one asked for (Rinehart Subdivision) to be recreational, but this is the Kenai River!”
Owners of 24 of 44 parcels in Blocks 16 through 20 of the subdivision presented a petition asking the city to rezone their neighborhood to single family-two family.
The commission voted down the rezone bid at the July 6 meeting, according to Johnson.
Johnson also said the Waalkes are in violation of city ordinances in that they frequently invite friends to pitch as many as 12 tents and park recreational vehicles on their property on Griffin Avenue and spill over onto the property of others.
She said the Waalkes split time between their home in Soldotna and a home in Anchorage.
The Soldotna City Council is slated to address the Rinehart Subdivision rezone at its meeting Wednesday night, but Johnson said the item is strictly a formality, because the commission did not vote to rezone the properties.
Now that Hetzler cannot proceed with the B and B idea, and Nichols may not finish building the cabin in order to sell it, Hetzler wonders what to do.
“I would like to talk to an attorney and see what we can do,” she said.
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