Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
On Wednesday, the Soldotna City Council unanimously passed a resolution allowing a petition to expand the city’s boundaries to be drafted. When completed, the petition will be brought back to the council along with a transition plan that will provide details about how services would transition from current service providers to the city, as well as other concerns. After public hearings, the petition will be sent to the Local Boundary Commission, the state group that approves municipal boundary changes.
The substitute resolution came after the council’s May 23 work session when changes and concerns about the original nine study areas were brought forth.
The resolution passed with two potential annexation areas taken out and all but three changed. Areas six (on Soldotna’s present northern boundary, from Pioneer Drive to the Kenai River bank) and eight (along the Sterling Highway toward Kenai) were removed from consideration.
Area three (south of Kalifornsky Beach) was modified to “remove several parcels of agricultural and undeveloped land at the far west end… totaling close to 134 acres,” according to a memo by Queen and city planner John Czarnezki. The excluded land was near the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and Cook Inlet Academy. Two residential areas were removed from area four (the commercial strip along Kalifornsky Beach Road), one on the east side and one on the west. Study area five (west of the Kenai River) was modified to exclude a large portion of homesteaded land that belonged to two people who testified Wednesday. A triangle of commercial land was also taken out of area five to avoid splitting it from properties to the north. Area seven (on Soldotna’s north boundary from Pioneer Avenue east to Heath Street) was extended north to start at Big Eddy Road because “this may be a more appropriate start to the commercial corridor,” according to Queen and Czarnezki’s memo. Areas one, two and nine were not modified.
Nearly all of the public comments from Wednesday’s meeting regarding annexation were against the resolution. The public shared concerns ranging from the rights of property owners to livestock, the ability to drive a snowmachine or four-wheeler to zoning and more.
Norm Blakeley, a borough assembly representative for Sterling and the Funny River area, said that he has met with many people who feel they have no say in this process and asked the council to consider allowing people the right to vote on annexation.
“I live in Sterling the reason I live there — I lived in Soldotna for quite a few years — is if I want to get on my snowmachine in the middle of the winter I can do it, or my four-wheeler,” Blakeley said. “I shoot skeet off the back of my deck. That’s basically the reason I live in a rural area. Soldotna is a great town and I enjoyed living here, but a lot of us don’t like the restrictions that the city has.”
Blakely also expressed concern for a Soldotna ordinance that restricts livestock. Queen noted that many zoning districts in Soldotna do allow livestock, but that some districts, such as the one city hall is in, do have livestock restrictions.
Matthew Lay is the owner of Big Dog Custom 4X4 and Auto Repair on East Poppy Lane in study area four. He said he’s also concerned about his ability to get on an ATV and travel around his neighborhood trails.
“Right now, we are outside of city limits,” Lay said. “We can get on our ATV’s and go ride the fifty or sixty trails near our house and get out and enjoy nature. You guys annex us, that’s gone. Nobody’s asking us, this all being shoved down our throat.”
Council Member Tim Cashman responded to Lay, recognizing that lifestyle issues, such as driving an ATV, are something that he’s working hard to not change if annexation occurs.
“If this goes forward, it’s really trying not to change a lifestyle,” Cashman said. “Your concerns and the concerns of others are not falling on deaf ears. I know there’s a lot of passion and stuff, but everyone is listening and trying to find a common ground.”
Lay, like others, was also concerned about zoning. His K-Beach business is in between two homes.
“So what you’re telling me, is that you’re going to rezone me and shut down my business because there’s a house on one side of me and a house on the other,” Lay said. “And if you guys so choose to turn it into a residential area I can’t run my business anymore, shutting down my livelihood.”
Patricia Patterson, who owns two business that would be affected, said Soldotna is missing the point.
“What I’ve picked up is this idea that you’re letting us in, and I think you’ve missed the point,” Patterson said. “You want to change the face of your city, not bring us in. You’ve missed that point because once your city grows, we’re going to be out-voting some of you guys because we are not part of you,” Patterson said.
Other residents like Terry Berger, who owns a piece of property on East Poppy Lane, say that being part of the city would offer them minimal services. Berger said he has his own water, sewer, utilities and that the borough offers him access to their dump and plows his road.
“I don’t need you guys,” Berger said. “There’s nothing you can provide for us. The only thing about it is you’re going to get tax money. I think you guys need to live within your means and live within your boundaries and leave us alone. I wish you guys would listen. We don’t trust you.”
Larry Smith lives in Soldotna but has property in study area 4. He noted that he was the thirteenth person to make public comment on the record, and the thirteenth person to speak out against annexation.
“I want to see this go away. I don’t know why you wasted the money on it. We don’t want the city, we don’t need the city. I know why you’re doing this, it’s simply a money grab. I’ll move out and sell my property before I pay the city of Soldotna. I don’t want to be a part of the city of Soldotna beyond where I live,” Smith said.
Council member Tyson Cox challenged Smith by saying that while only 13 people have spoken, over a thousand people are potentially affected.
“I would just be hard-pressed to say that this is the voice of everyone,” Cox said.
Smith countered and asked Mr. Cox where are the people “saying yes?” To which Cox said that typically when people are OK with something, they don’t show up.
Members of the public started to speak up when Mayor Nels Anderson called the council to order.