City moves forward with Envision plan
One word could be used to describe Envision Soldotna 2030, the city’s comprehensive plan — intertwined.
During the Soldotna Planning and Zoning meeting Wednesday, city planner Stephanie Queen presented an update of the city’s projects from the year and how they compare with the plan’s goals and objectives.
“Some are relatively short-term objectives, some are for down the road,” said Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche. “But we feel we’ve been very successful so far on some of the priorities that were in the plan.”
Much like the four elements that make up life — earth, fire, wind and water — there are four basic building blocks making up the comprehensive plan and measuring tools. Those four building blocks are public safety, healthy watersheds and the Kenai River, quality of life and economic development.
“They really all tie back and are interwoven into the four essential areas that define the success of Soldotna as a community,” Micciche said.
One of the prime objectives for the public safety priority, Micciche said, is the traffic light that will be put in at Birch Street and the Sterling Highway.
Some of the funding for the project has come from the state, with a third of it coming last year, and another third of the funding coming in the governor’s newest budget that will be finalized next year.
“We’ve been working with (the Department of Transportation) to move forward on installing that light, which we see as being imperative to breaking up that long stretch without a safe crossing on the Sterling (Highway),” Micciche said.
The city has also formed a Bike and Pedestrian and Trials Safety Committee to help evaluate where the gaps are safety-wise, which is an important part of the comprehensive plan, Micciche said.
“We want people to be out and be healthy but safe while doing so,” he said.
One of the committee’s projects will include the Safe Routes to School program. The project includes several phases that go as far as paying for some of the infrastructure corrections, said Micciche.
The city prides itself on being active in sustaining the health of the Kenai River as it’s no secret the river is the backbone of the community.
Soldotna City Council previously passed an ordinance amending the city’s parking code to reduce the amount of pavement new businesses need when they move into Soldotna, which directly impacts the river.
“It provided for additional natural vegetation to protect water that would have drained into the Kenai,” Micciche said.
The ordinance provided other good environmental side effects in addition to a healthier river, Queen said.
“We don’t have as much pavement,” Queen said. “It also frees up land for landscaping and some other things.”
The four essential building blocks are so intertwined, it’s impossible to talk about one without talking about the other.
The Kenai river, which provides natural resources for community members, has a large impact on the quality of life Soldotna residents enjoy, Micciche said.
“I don’t think it’s any mystery to anyone why folks live in the Soldotna area,” Micciche said. “A very high proportion of the folks that live here enjoy a quality of life that is wrapped around the natural resources that the river offers.
“So it’s an important part of not only our quality of life but our economy as well.”
Included in the quality of life category is the Soldotna Library expansion project, the Soldotna Community Memorial Park, Soldotna Creek Park, competitions at the bike and skate park and the possibility of a teen center still in its research phase.
“It’s tough to categorize these because they are all so intertwined,” Queen said. “Within (the four categories), we’re doing things that often times hits a few of those, or a couple.”
A project that would be in the middle of a Venn diagram is the beautification of the Spur and Sterling Highway corridors which involves the city’s Storefront Improvement Program and also a landscape/beautification program.
“That’s a quality of life and economic development related,” Queen said.
The plan is aimed at benefiting not only business owners, but the entire community. Micciche said the project also hits the environmental aspect of the plan.
“The landscaping is like with the parking thing, it’s hand-in-hand with all of those,” Micciche said. “(There is a) greater proportion of natural vegetation.”
Last year, the city focused on landscaping by collaborating with businesses. Next year, the city will open a reimbursement program to help improve store fronts along both highways.
“The goal is to partner again to improve the look of our community, the vitality of our downtown,” Queen said. “(We’re) trying to increase traffic and property values and also quality of life.”
The economic development of the city is directly linked to everything the city does. In the medical zoning district, there has been a transition from a residential zone to a commercial zone, Micciche said.
“One of the most important things about where people want to locate is quality of life and the availability of gainful employment,” said Micciche. “So we’ve worked quite a bit with the hospital and the medical community on understanding that zoning district.”
Micciche said the city is hoping to protect businesses in the “high-value” commercial zones along the Sterling and Kenai Spur Highways by limiting residential development encroaching into the area.
“(We’re) supporting not only those businesses, but preserving the commercial zone for future development as well,” he said.
The city is also doing an evaluation on a long-term infrastructure improvement plan for roads and water and sewer services, Micciche said.
“A lot of our roads, even in some relatively high-value commercial areas are still substandard,” he said. “We’re evaluating where to use general fund dollars to update a lot of our road infrastructure and water and sewer infrastructure to current standards.”
The comprehensive plan acts as a road map for the city administration. But it didn’t happen over night, Micciche said.
“When we went though the (comprehensive) plan process, we had a lot of folks contributing,” he said. “We welcomed every one of the ideas.”
Since the plan was such a large community effort, Micciche said it is his duty to not let the plan sit on the shelf.
“In my mind, it’d be disrespectful to not take this plan seriously,” he said. “A lot of time and money went into it and we’re taking it very seriously.”
The plan is helping Queen run her department smoothly, using it as a guide for not only what steps the city should take, but also for the community to stay informed.
“It’s exciting to see people come to meetings, members of the public who are referencing things in the (plan),” Queen said. “It’s not just a tool for us, but for the community at large because it is their document, they generated it — we put it down on paper.”
The plan will be re-evaluated every three years, Micciche said.
“We call it Envision (Soldotna) 2030, so that’s is 20 years from now,” he said. “If it weren’t to be updated, Soldotna could be a very different place 20 years from now.”
The 14 projects listed in the goals update will help the city move forward.
“If you think about all that occurred this year, we jumped on these 15 items or so, because they’re all very important,” he said. “Some to different people in our community, but very important to our community as a whole.”