Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series about Soldotna’s search for a cemetery site.
Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter The view from a bluff above the Kenai River on a city-owned parcel of land between RIverwatch Drive and Linda Lane looks over a city sedimentation pond and the Kenai River beyond. The parcel was suggested as a site for a cemetery.
By Jenny Neyman
Peeking through the trees to the west from a bluff above the Kenai River in Soldotna, a man-made pond sparkles stationary below, while a glimpse of the blue-green Kenai River sweeps along beyond it. The vista climbs with rooftops and treetops and comes to rest on the horizon, where Mount Redoubt draws its cloudy veil up around its shoulders.
To members of the Soldotna Historical Society, two city task forces, the director of the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, the city’s planning and zoning commission and a majority of Soldotna residents who voted on the issue, the spot would make an ideal location for a cemetery in Soldotna.
“It’s peaceful. There are a couple places where you may get a nice view, where you could sit there, look at the mountain and think, ‘Gee, isn’t this pretty.’ And think about Mom or Dad or whoever. There’s no Alaska lawn ornaments — no dead Buicks. No Fords. No wild parties going on. Honest to God, it’s a no-brainer to me,” said Jim Fassler, who has served on two city cemetery task forces.
That same site — a 10-acre, city-owned parcel atop a bluff above the Kenai River between Linda Lane and Riverwatch Drive — is described much differently by neighbors opposed to putting a cemetery there.
“I think a lot of it was the neighbors felt strongly that they would prefer to have a cemetery more outside of town rather than inside a neighborhood.
“Neighborhoods should be for living — for homes, people, kids. The neighborhood association felt it really didn’t belong in a neighborhood,” said Jay Rohloff, who owns two parcels of property along the northern border of the city’s lot, and is head of the area homeowners’ association.
The parcel is alternately described as peaceful and noisy; secure and a draw for vandals; roomy and lacking space for future growth; a manicured, unobtrusive boon for the neighborhood, and a water-contaminating, traffic-clogging threat to property values.
People on either side of the argument — which has been a re-occurring hot topic at Soldotna City Council meetings since 2003 — gained alternate descriptions, too. In public testimonies over the years, neighbors opposing the site have been labeled as unreasonable, selfish, elitist and ascribing to the philosophy of NIMBY — not in my backyard. Those supporting it were also deemed unreasonable, and seen as bullies for trying to force their will on others who would be more directly impacted.
“They’re NIMBYs, they just don’t want it in their neighborhood. They’ll use any old excuse, in my opinion,” Fassler said. “… They want a cemetery. Not a one says they don’t want a cemetery in their town. But all you hear from them is, ‘Don’t put it in my neighborhood.’”
“The neighborhoods who are impacted by it, I can understand their opposition or their emotional connection. It’s next door to me, in our neighborhood, it’s next to our school,” Rohloff said. “The group that was pushing it had no real stake in the issue. I was surprised by the emotional connection that was picked up there. … I don’t think it’s the American way to steamroll a group of individuals who are being impacted the greatest.”