Land deal will wait

Soldotna to hold off on buying parcel next to visitor center

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2003

Sometimes the most prudent action is no action at all.

The Soldotna City Council on Wednesday decided not to make any moves toward purchasing the parcel of land adjacent to where the city's visitor center now sits. Instead, the council directed City Manager Tom Boedeker to move forward with plans to acquire a different parcel of land for use as a new city maintenance shop.

The council has been considering whether to purchase the visitor's center property for some time now, but never has identified a funding source to do so. However, the council has budgeted money for moving the maintenance shop to the north side of the river, and, according to council member Sharon Moock, the shop move should be the city's higher priority.

Moock made a motion Wednesday to direct Boedeker to begin negotiations to purchase property for a new shop on Tyee Street.

She said she doesn't necessarily believe purchasing the visitor's center land is a bad idea, but she doesn't want to see the shop money spent on the land.

"I'm in favor of moving forward with the original plans on the shop posthaste," Moock said.

Most of the council agreed with Moock, with the exception of Scott McLane, who spoke in favor of purchasing the visitor's center property. The council passed the motion with a vote of 5-1.

The issue of whether the city should purchase the visitor's center land has been a hot topic on the council since last month, when Boedeker informed the council that the state's plan to build a new bridge across the Kenai River was in jeopardy if the city didn't take some action. On Wednesday, however, Boedeker told the council that the city is not in danger of holding up the project if it does not purchase the property.

"It is not holding up the bridge project," Boedeker said.

There has been a lot of confusion over the land, which is owned by a private property owner and assessed by the borough at $124,800. The city has an agreement to use a portion of the land for parking, but that's only a small portion of the 62,415-square-foot piece of land.

The state has entered into negotiations with the landowner to buy another piece of property for the bridge project, but not the one where the parking lot is located. However, Boedeker said the landowner is reluctant to sell that piece unless the parcel where the parking lot is also is sold. Since the state is not using the parking lot land in its bridge design, there is no need for it to purchase that property, which Boedeker said has an asking price of approximately $310,000.

On Wednesday, the council discussed the merits of purchasing the land in order to use it for future expansion of the visitor's center, which also is home to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

He said the current property is too small to accommodate the number of visitors who also use the area for fishing, and problems with parking, access and restroom facilities already are coming to a head.

"The question is, are solving these problems worth a three hundred thousand dollar price tag?" Boedeker asked. "It's steep."

Council member Jim Stogsdill said he's in favor of purchasing the land, but he'd like to see the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce help defray the purchase price. The chamber has indicated a willingness to allocate $50,000 from its building construction fund to help with the purchase, but Stogsdill suggested a land swap might be a better way to go.

Since the chamber already has purchased 10 acres of land on the Sterling Highway on the east side of town, Stogsdill said he believes the chamber should give the land to the city in exchange for the city purchasing the property.

"It wouldn't hurt them to relinquish that 10-acre parcel," Stogsdill said.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Secretary-Treasurer Mike Frost spoke at Wednesday's meeting. He said the chamber purchased the 10-acre parcel with the intention of moving its operations to a new facility. However, he said at this time no funding has been identified for a new building, and that the chamber now would be in favor of staying at its current location.

"We had kind of a vision, and some things have changed to blur that vision," he said. "We think it's good where we are."

Frost said he'd like to see the chamber and the city come up with a way to make the visitor's center work for both parties.

"We've had such a great relationship with the city," Frost said. "... and we want to keep that up."

Frost encouraged the council to keep its options open and said he hopes the city does eventually decide purchasing the visitor's center land is a priority.

"You're buying more than a parking lot, you're buying a lot of things," he said.

Stogsdill asked Frost if he'd be willing to take the idea of a land swap to the chamber board.

"I'd be willing to take that back to the chamber to see if the board was interested," he said.

For now though, the land is still for sale, and the city is in no hurry to purchase it. Moock said she believes the best course of action will be to wait and see what happens with the bridge project before taking any action toward purchasing the property. She said it's up to the state to decide how it will proceed with the project before action on the visitor's center land becomes a priority.

"I don't think it's our burden to try to speed any of this along, because we can't," she said.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

n Accepted a $1.485 million grant -- one of the largest ever for the city -- from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to fund the city's ongoing wastewater treatment plant improvements. The project has been the city's highest capital project priority for the past couple of years and required the council to approve spending $636,429 in matching funds. Boedeker said a contract for the project will be awarded in November or December.

n Discussed various concepts for Soldotna Creek Park. Boedeker showed the council three proposed designs for the park, all of which incorporate some kind of community trail system along the river below the park. The main issue for the council to consider, he said, is whether to allow fishing at the park. Council members said they'd like to hear more from the public on the issue before making any decisions on an eventual design.

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