Soldotna City Council members and Soldotna Planning and Zoning commissioners meet for a joint work session on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Council members and Soldotna Planning and Zoning commissioners meet for a joint work session on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna considers new commercial zoning district for downtown corridor

The zone would prioritize walkability, ‘visually pleasing’ aesthetics

A new commercial zoning district along the Sterling Highway in Soldotna would emphasize mixed-use and aesthetically pleasing development with the goal of encouraging pedestrian activity in the area.

Draft legislation establishing the new “Commercial Core” district was considered by Soldotna City Council members and the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission at a joint work session Wednesday.

As proposed, Soldotna’s Commercial Core District would work to provide an area in town that is “visually pleasing,” and that features mixed, compatible land uses that would encourage connectivity, increased density and activity, particularly when it comes to pedestrians.

“The principle objectives of the CC designation are to strengthen the role of this area as a unique retail, tourism, entertainment, business and cultural hub for the region, and to accommodate mixed-use residential development,” a draft copy of the legislation says.

The City of Soldotna already has Commercial and a Limited Commercial zoning districts, generally situated around the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The commercial core district would be a third commercial designation.

Soldotna Director of Economic Development & Planning John Czarnezki told council members and commissioners Wednesday that the Commercial Core zone would align with both the city’s Envision Soldotna 2030 and Downtown Improvement. Establishment of a more concentrated commercial zone and an overlay district for the city’s riverfront corridor, as well as improvement of the streetscape along highways are priorities of those plans.

Planning and Zoning commissioners, Czarnezki said, have been working on the proposal for well over a year. They recommend that principal uses of land in the Commercial Core district be, among other things, dwellings that are part of a mixed use development, retail sales, light industry such as breweries and distilleries, parks and recreation facilities.

The commission recommends that parcels in the zone not include uses like animal care facilities, campgrounds, funeral homes, pawn shops, industrial areas, offices, schools or storage units, among other things.

If the city adopts the commercial core zone, existing facilities in the zone boundaries would be allowed to continue, but could not expand. Any nonconforming parcels that are discontinued, destroyed or abandoned for at least a year would have to be replaced with a use that complies with the Commercial Core regulations.

The resolution presented to council for consideration would not rezone any city parcel, but rather would only establish the Commercial Core Zoning district as an option for future use, Czarnezki said.

“It creates a new zoning district in the menu of zoning districts,” Czarnezki said Wednesday.

Before any new zoning code is adopted by the city council, firm boundaries for the zone would need to be established and a public process through which existing landowners in the area are notified would need to occur. Legislation would also take at least two meetings at the city council level for approval.

Consideration of a new Commercial Core Zoning district comes as the City of Soldotna is already looking for ways to redevelop its waterfront area. Soldotna last summer received a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency to begin planning efforts for what the city has called a walkable “main street” by the river.

The city has contracted with First Forty Feet, an urban design and planning firm out of Portland, to oversee the project. That firm held a series of public information sessions earlier this year to gather public input on the proposal and envision better walkability and commerce “hubs” at key intersections along the Sterling Highway.

Wednesday’s full city council and planning commission work session can be streamed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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