Soldotna City Council passed an ordinance changing zoning code to protect its commercial zoning district along the Sterling Highway at its meeting Wednesday night.
"The concern was we have a limited amount of commercially zoned land and by allowing residential dwellings it had the potential to undermine our commercial zoning district," explained Stephanie Queen, Soldotna city planner.
That means the new ordinance only allows residential dwellings within the commercial districts as an accessory or conditional use rather than a principal one.
"The main change is instead of being a by-right use like it was before it's now a conditional use," she said.
The planning and zoning commission has been talking about this issue for the last two years, she said.
"One of the reasons for this kind of ordinance is when a project like the condos came into town they met all the standards so it had to be automatically approved," Queen said, in reference to the Alaska Timberwolf Resort in the city's commercial district. "The city wished they could have had the ability to do something different there. Without that in the code we really had no ability to do that."
She said the land is zoned commercially for economic development.
"Residences don't necessarily provide revenue or contribute economically," Queen said.
According to Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, 94 percent of revenue in the city comes from the commercial district along the highway.
He said the single most frequent planning complaint to the city is the existence of the Timberwolf condominiums within this zone.
The ordinance "gives planning and zoning the ability to say 'yes' to creative residential uses for the zone but the city the ability to say 'no' to the wrong kind of project," he said.
And it gives priority to commercial uses, Micciche said.
He said the zoning change is consistent with what the city heard from residents during its comprehensive planning process over the past two years.
"Residents wanted better planning in the commercial zone," he said.
The comprehensive plan, now in it's final stages, takes steps to "try to create a more vibrant downtown district and focus that on the highways running through town," Queen said.
But that does not mean existing residences in downtown Soldotna will be affected by the code change.
She said the planning and zoning commission took a significant amount of care to grandfather in the existing residential dwellings in the commercial district. Those residents are allowed to continue living there and have the ability to expand their homes.
"There are some extra protections in the ordinance for those that are already there," Queen said.
Other council actions:
* Seated its two new council members, Kyle Fisher and Regina Daniels.
* Passed a resolution in support of the Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) process for improving community health and the upcoming Nov. 6 community visioning event.
* Presented awards to the winners of the city's first annual Bike and Skate Challenge held Oct. 16.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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