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Soldotna council lands in middle of state property dispute

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2003

A complicated land dispute is threatening plans to build a new Kenai River bridge in Soldotna.

Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker told the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday about the potential stumbling block. Apparently, he said, the Soldotna Visitors Center parking lot could stand between the city and the proposed $28 million bridge.

"It has the potential, if not resolved, it could result in delays in the construction project," Boedeker told the council.

He explained that the land the city uses for its parking lot is not actually owned by the city. Instead, the parking lot straddles two pieces of property, and the city has an agreement with the property owners to use space for a parking lot.

The parking lot sits on property that's adjacent to another piece of land that the state needs for right of way for the bridge project. Apparently, when the state negotiated to purchase the land, it failed to take into account that a parking lot sat on one of the parcels. In the state's eyes, that created an encumbrance, which lowered the price it was willing to pay for the lot.

That didn't sit well with the property owners, which want to get the original price roughly $5 per square foot. The state doesn't want to pay that price, and now the city is caught in the middle.

"The price issue has come into play," Boedeker said.

 

A parking lot at the Soldotna Visitors Center is the latest hurdle facing a new bridge.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

It's a tough spot to be in, he said, though the city may have some options. Deciding what route to take, however, could prove tricky.

"It all depends on what we plan to do with the visitors center," he said.

First, the city might want to consider purchasing the land the parking lot sits on itself. That would take the land out of the equation and probably satisfy the property owners. However, the cost which Boedeker estimated could run as high as $30,000 or more is a big issue.

A second option the city has is to move the center. Boedeker said the existing parking lot does not have adequate parking facilities to handle the large numbers of visitors and fishers that use the facility. In addition to being a visitors center, the building also is home to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, as well as the access point for the city's fish walk fishing area.

"We have issues there with access, parking and the size of the visitors center," Boedeker said.

The city could decide to move the center to another location something the chamber already has begun to consider and says it doesn't need the parking lot. However, the chamber of commerce hasn't finalized any plans to move to a new site.

"They have property, but no money to build a facility at this time," Boedeker said.

Moving, he said, would likely solve the problem. However, it also would mean the city would have to come up with a long-term, and likely expensive, plan to relocate.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the type of bonds the state is using to bankroll the bridge project Garvey bonds have a very short life, Boedeker said. If there are any significant delays in the project, the money could disappear and the bridge project would be off the table.

For now, Boedeker said he's simply going to try and talk with the interested parties the state, the chamber and the property owners to determine what the exact issues are. He said there are still a lot of facts he'd like to gather before making any recommendations about where to go next.

On Thursday, he said he's going to try his best in the coming weeks to solve the problem. If this situation had come up earlier in the project, things might be different. But he said that with the state scheduled to begin construction next spring, the time element is making the situation more sensitive.

"They kind of dropped this on us at the last minute," he said.

He said his best hope now is to simply cut through the numerous issues and bring a workable solution to the city council. The bottom line, he said, is if an acceptable solution can be found in the next month, it would be a big improvement over the current situation.

"Damned if you do, damned if you don't would be an improvement at this point," he said.



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