Five years later

Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission members got a first look at what the city has accomplished since it rolled out the Envision Soldotna 2030 Comprehensive Plan.

Director of Economic Planning and Development Stephanie Queen gave the commission an overview of what has been addressed or accomplished since the plan was completed five years ago at the commission’s meeting last Wednesday.

“We started this process in 2009,” Queen told the commission. “It took about two years of public involvement and work with our consultants.”

The plan had a $100,000 budget, half of which came from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and had not been updated since 1995, Queen said.

Goals set forth in the plan that have been met so far include the creation of the Downtown Improvement Plan, the addition of a full-time staff position to focus on economic development, increased park programming and festivals and supporting the expansion of the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library. Additionally, the results of a study being done on the possibility of annexation should be ready to share within the next month or so, Queen said.

Some ongoing goals of the plan include evaluating city parking locations, better signage, evaluating the use of incentives — like the city’s Storefront Improvement Program — investigating the potential for a convention center and considering expansion of Soldotna’s boardwalks. Specifically, the city is working to connect its visitor center to Centennial Trail, which Queen said should be completed this spring.

Clearer signage is a major part of the Downtown Improvement Plan.

“Right now, people get those brown signs from the state that say ‘rodeo,’ or ‘library,’” Queen said. “And those could be replaced with something that we actually think of ahead of time.”

Some of them include highway gateway signs at the edges of Soldotna. The gateway signs would greet motorists as they entered the city, with two planned to be located on the Sterling Highway, and one on the Kenai Spur Highway.

The signs are slated to be constructed this spring, and the project is going out to bid in the next few weeks, Queen said.

Overall, the comprehensive plan has identified nine “high-priority” items for the city to focus on most immediately. Of those nine items, six have been addressed in some way while the other three will be looked at further down the road, Queen said. One of the high-priority goals is to look into the city’s sign code, an issue brought up by the commission earlier during the meeting as its members approved a variance for a sign in town to expand and include an LED message sign. The commission discussed its lack of power to stop signs from cropping up that potentially go against the city’s overall vision and aesthetic direction.

Commission Chair Colleen Denbrock said that, in the past, comprehensive plans would be created because they were required, but not often looked at or used as a guide afterward.

“Having been on the commission for a long time, this is the first actual comprehensive plan that we’ve actually used as a tool and governed our zoning based by that,” Denbrock said.

Comprehensive plans are required by state statute.

Queen will present the five-year plan update to the Soldotna City Council at its Wednesday meeting.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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