As a developer looks to move in, Soldotna considers changes to its zoning codes

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Sunday, October 18, 2015 10:09pm
  • News

There are no townhouses in Soldotna. However, they may be added to the mix of housing options soon as Soldotna city employees have recommended changes to the city’s zoning codes which would make them friendlier to potential townhome and condominium developers.

The changes were introduced to the Soldotna City Council and a public hearing will be held on Oct. 28 as the city revamps what City Planner John Czarnezki called an “antiquated and confusing,” code.

The ordinance amends the zoning code to add general standards for townhouse development including a minimum site size — 14,400 square feet — a maximum building height, and density: no more than 18 units in areas zoned in the commercial and multi-family zoning districts and a maximum of 12 in areas zoned for rural residential and limited commercial use.

Czarnezki said the code change would also help the city reach a goal laid out in its comprehensive plan which is to investigate code changes that promote and encourage a diversity of housing options.

At least one developer is pleased with the code change and its implications for his budding real estate development on Redoubt Avenue near downtown Soldotna.

When Darvin Harmon, a former Alaskan who now lives in Arizona, bought a property near Redoubt Elementary School he started planning for a high-density property but found the city’s code vague.

“It could be construed in a couple of different ways,” he said. “(The city) looked at it one way, I looked at it another way. So, about six months ago we sat down and started looking at (the code.)”

Harmon’s development, currently called Halycon Villas — though he’s not sure the name will stick — would differ from other high-density developments like apartments and condominiums in that he wants the homeowners to also own the property beneath their homes. It’s the key difference between the city’s new definition of a condominium versus a townhouse.

Condos are individual units within a multi-unit building or development and each owner shares a common interest in the public spaces and common areas in the units — like staircases or recreation areas — and the underlying land, according to the new code. Townhouses and the lots they sit on are owned by individual property owners, according to the code.

Harmon said he worked with city officials on the differing definitions of the two and why it would be important to distinguish between the structures.

“We went back and forth and then I brought to them codes from Anchorage, codes from Kenai that were specific to townhouses,” Harmon said.

He said Soldotna’s code changes went through a faster process than what he is used to dealing with in other cities.

“These guys did it in 10 months, which is amazing. I’ve never seen a city more proactive when dealing with development issues,” Harmon said.

Harmon’s development has a long way to go before it will be completed. He must still complete a site plan for city approval. Czarnezi and others in the city have seen various iterations of conceptual design but said Harmon has not yet formally submitted a site plan for review or for a building permit.

He said he hopes to break ground for utilities in 2016.

“To date, he has only applied for and received permission to clear a portion of the lot for future construction,” Czarnezki said. “It is very typical of developers to submit plans prior to permit application to ensure that they’re in harmony with codes.”

Harmon said he has been encouraged by the way the city officials have negotiated with him on his project.

“The neat thing was, nobody said I couldn’t do it,” he said. “They said ‘I don’t know if our zoning regs, the way they are written, are going to allow for that type of development.’”

Harmon said he believes the city will benefit from high-density housing because it has a limited amount of land and a growing population.

“(The city) wants (these developments) to be clean and they want them to be organized and they want to have the right setbacks and landscaping,” he said. “They figure there’s going to be a lot more guys like me coming down the pike, I just happen to be the first guy.”

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

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