Homer council takes steps to help homeless

Planning and zoning issues dominated discussion Monday night at the Homer City Council’s regular meeting. With temperatures falling earlier this month below zero, one proposed zoning change could mean saving lives by providing temporary shelter for homeless people facing bitter cold in winter.

Introduced by council member Shelly Erickson, Memorandum 17-017 would start discussion on a draft ordinance to change zoning regulations so that churches could provide temporary housing overnight for several days from October to April. The change would be a permitted use, meaning facilities wouldn’t have to apply for a conditional use permit and approval by the Homer Advisory Planning Commission. The memorandum passed unanimously and goes to the planning commission for further review and preparation of a draft ordinance.

The ordinance got support of several homeless advocates speaking to the council.

“We just want people to know we’re out there and support this issue,” said Lt. Christin Fankhauser of the Salvation Army, a member of the Homeless Action Committee. “We want to do what we can to take care of the less fortunate in Homer.”

The council also sent to the planning commission two other proposed issues. It introduced on first reading Ordinance 17-05, amending the city operating budget by adding $970,870 from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails Program, or HART, fund for Greatland Street improvements.

The council also introduced on first reading Ordinance 17-04, amending city zoning code to add auto equipment sales, rentals, service, repair and storage to the list of permitted use in the Marine Industrial District on the Homer Spit.

Both actions go to the planning commission for its review, and will come back to the council later with changes and recommendations.

Erickson said she introduced the memo on temporary homeless shelter as a start in addressing the issue of people without reliable shelter.

“I was more concerned there were places of shelter before they could get moved into a long term thing,” she said. “The homeless shelter is the next step. This is getting it to the homeless shelter (step).”

“This is great. It’s overdue,” council member Heath Smith said in support of the change.

Smith said he did want to be sure the change would help homeless people get help from social service agencies in finding permanent housing.

“What I want to get away from is establishing something where it becomes a destination for homeless people where we have these open doors, where they go from one place to another,” he said.

In the Greatland Street extension issue, the council considered Option C, a recommendation from Public Works Director Carey Meyer that the city extend Greatland Street north and to the east, connecting to Pioneer Avenue at Bartlett Street.

Greatland Street now extends from the Sterling Highway to just south of Pioneer Avenue, providing access to two businesses at the corner and Save-U-More, one of Homer’s two grocery stores, at the end.

Save-U-More manager Mark Hemstreet supported Option A, a straight shot north to Pioneer Avenue that comes out by the South Peninsula Hospital annex and North Wind. The council also supported that idea as being the simplest and cheapest.

Erickson said that with curbs, gutters and sidewalks, the extension also would provide safe pedestrian access from the Sterling Highway to Pioneer Avenue as an alternative to Main Street, a state road which has no sidewalks. There already is a rough trail from Greatland to Pioneer.

Council member Donna Aderhold opposed Option A, instead suggesting no recommendation and allowing the planning commission to consider all the options. Option B would take the same route as Option C to Pioneer Avenue, but add an east-west link to Main Street.

“I also want the public to have a chance to weigh in,” she said. “This is kind of a big deal to decide a new road.”

City Manager Katie Koester said Option C would be the simplest since it would involve only one land owner, while Option A would involve more landowners and the creation of a special assessment district.

The council supported the car lot rezoning on the Spit. The primary motivation is to allow the Homer Hockey Association to lease for two weeks its parking lot by the Kevin Bell Arena for vehicle sales, something it did last summer that flew under the zoning radar. The hockey association got $5,000 last summer for that lease.

“We should probably apologize,” said Charles Stewart for the hockey association. “We didn’t know any better.”

However, zoning for one lot is spot zoning, and is illegal in Alaska, a point made by citizen activist Frank Griswold in a letter to the council.

“Spot zoning is simply the legal term of art for a zoning decision which affects a small parcel of land and which is found to be an arbitrary exercise of power,” Griswold wrote, citing a footnote by the Alaska Supreme Court in Griswold v. City of Homer, a case he filed challenging another city attempt at spot zoning. Griswold suggested getting a legal opinion to be sure the proposed change wouldn’t be spot zoning.

Smith also said he had concerns about if the proposed change would be too broad, particularly if it allowed car rentals in competition with established rental businesses.

“We need to be cognizant of people not just swooping in,” he said.

Much of the area affected would be city land near the Deep Water Dock that the city controls, but it also would apply to private land on the Spit not including the Marine Commercial district between Deep Water Dock Road and Fish Dock Road.

The council approved on introduction Ordinance 17-04 and referred it to the planning commission.

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