The Alaska Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration approved the city of Soldotna’s application for a beautification and encroachment permit, according to Stephanie Queen’s city manager report. The permit allows the city to plant landscaping along portions of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highway right of ways.

In her report, Queen said the city would continue working with adjacent landowners in coordinating landscaping design in key areas of the highway corridor. The report also states the project will be funded using money previously appropriated for right-of-way improvements.

Director of economic development for the city, John Czarnezki said the permit includes mostly vacant right-of-way land along the Sterling Highway.

“For example, there’s some Department of Transportation land at the C&C Mall, near the old Napa mall, in front of the old Blockbuster building, at Thompson’s Corner and on the strip of land between Napa and Arby’s,” Czarnezki said in an email Thursday.

The downtown beautification permit is just one small part of the city’s Downtown Improvement Plan. The plan came as the result of the city’s 2014 business owner survey, which showed maintenance and enhancement of Soldotna was a matter of civic pride and good business sense, according to the city’s website. The plan focuses on improving public parks and trails, new signage, landscaping in the highway right of ways, policy options encouraging redevelopment of underutilized buildings and parcels and other general beautification.

One example in the plan shows enhanced landscaping in front of the Blazy Mall, which shows a walkway, a private sign, hedges, aspen trees and a walking trail. This type of landscaping could potentially take up the space of existing parking. Such improvements could benefit the private landowner through curb appeal, and the community, according to the Downtown Improvement Plan.

The primary goal with the highway corridors is to improve visual continuity along the road. According to the plan, this can be achieved with seamless landscaping along the corridor and the adjacent property. The plan said this type of landscaping could draw people to existing business storefronts.

The recommendations in the Downtown Improvement Plan will also likely benefit cyclists and pedestrians.

“The overarching strategy behind these recommendations is to give Soldotna the look, feel, and functionality of a proper downtown — one in which multiple commercial and/or mixed-use streets are logically interconnected to serve pedestrians, cyclists, and automobile traffic,” the Downtown Improvement Plan. “Non-motorized paths serve a variety of users and connect them with logical destinations and streets.”

Details will be finalized over the winter, and construction will begin in next spring.

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