Soldotna Planning and Zoning seeks to alter landscaping requirements

This story been updated to clarify that the Planning and Zoning Commission started looking at landscaping regulations in January 2015, deciding to amend city code more recently.

Portions of Soldotna may soon be getting a greenery facelift.

The Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending changes to the city’s landscaping regulations after about a year of work on the issue.

The commission passed a resolution at its Wednesday meeting that would repeal a section of the city’s code where referring to landscaping requirements and re-enact it with a few changes.

The changes will not affect any businesses, developers or residents with existing structures, said Soldotna City Planner John Czarnezki. The new landscaping standards will be “triggered” if someone builds a new structure or parking lot of 40 spaces or more, expands a building by 10 percent or more or changes a building or property’s use, according to the code. A hair salon transitioning to a restaurant, for example, could require a different kind of parking lot, triggering the new landscaping standards, Czarnezki explained.

“A lot of the changes came about because, one, we had identified those inconsistencies in the code,” Czarnezki said. “… and then we received over the past several years just a lot of comment… a lot of it on residential development and what residential development was looking like in the city…”

At least 5 percent of parking lots with 40–200 spaces needs to be dedicated to landscaping, according to the code. The landscaping requirement jumps up to 8 percent for lots with more than 200 spaces.

Commission member Tom Janz brought up concern about residential developers who might try to clear cut their lots, asking for clarification that the amended code would prevent that.

The residential landscaping section of the changed code stipulates that landscapers have to keep at least 15 percent of vegetation on lots smaller than 40,000 square feet, and must keep at least 20 percent of it on lots larger than that.

The code changes have been a long time coming, which was mentioned by several commission members at the meeting. Czarnezki said the commission has been getting comments and ideas from the public for years and that it struck out to address the issue in January 2015.

Included in the proposed code change is an incentive for developers and residents to keep as much native vegetation on their lots as possible. According to the code section’s general standards, if one “healthy” native tree between six and 12 inches in caliper — a measure of diameter — is saved, it will be credited as two trees that would otherwise have to be planted. A native tree 12 inches or more in caliper will be credited as three trees.

“It potentially saves the site developers some dollars on landscape costs, and then it also preserves some of our… healthy, natural trees that we already have,” Czarnezki told commissioners during the meeting.

Feedback on the changes has been mostly positive, with some community members expressing ideas or things they’d like to see addressed, Czarnezki said. One community member attended Wednesday’s public hearing on the landscaping code, but arrived after public comment had been closed on the issue, he said.

Landscape Architect Nancy Casey, of Casey Planning and Design in Soldotna, submitted a letter to the commission in November, writing that “the price tag to install and maintain new landscaping over decades can outweigh the ‘cost’ of designing around and protecting existing vegetation during construction.”

The resolution’s next step is to go before the Soldotna City Council for further review at a future meeting that Czarnezki said should be scheduled soon.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com

 

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