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Hotel plan meets obstacle with Homer planning commission

(Left to right) Renee Krause, Jan Keiser, Ken Castner, Ryan Foster, Brad Conley, David Schneider, Charles Barnwell and Scott Smith sitting and discussing a conditional use permit application from Doyon, Limited on Jan. 3, 2024.
Jamie Diep
/
KBBI
(Left to right) Renee Krause, Jan Keiser, Ken Castner, Ryan Foster, Brad Conley, David Schneider, Charles Barnwell and Scott Smith sitting and discussing a conditional use permit application from Doyon, Limited on Jan. 3, 2024.

Residents and business owners filled council chambers on Jan. 3 as the Homer Planning Commission moved forward with several big decisions on a proposed hotel complex.

Commissioners narrowly voted to recommend moving forward with rezoning for a hotel development at the base of the Homer Spit at a seven hour meeting on Jan. 3. The development includes a hotel, employee housing and five triplexes.

But the group also voted down a proposal to get rid of a city-owned pedestrian trail.

This means a proposal to get rid of the trail can be brought to the city council, but will not have the commission’s support. As an advisory group, the commissioners can approve the conditional use permit, but can only make recommendations to city council for the other items.

The meeting continued discussions which began on Dec. 6 on Alaska Native corporation Doyon Limited’s conditional use permit application for the controversial development.

More than 100 people attended virtually and in person. Penelope Haas spoke out against the permit during the public hearing.

“We have a lot of guidance on how to interpret that code in our comprehensive plan that all kind of point to protecting the integrity of the ecology around this development and focusing the density of our development away from this area and towards our city center,” she said.

More than 200 community members also signed in support of a written comment from Haas outlining potential code violations.

The comment alleged the building’s height, density, and area was greater than what was outlined in code. It also highlighted potential ways the development went against the city’s comprehensive plan, a set of guidelines that lays out ways to grow and develop the city in the long term.

Other concerns from the public included how a traffic impact analysis was done, losing access to nearby wetlands, and the site not preserving community character.

Recommending remapping the site’s three lots to two was also on the meeting’s agenda.

In response to the comments, city planner Ryan Foster said the hotel is part of a planned unit development, which means that specific code violations brought up did not apply in this case.

“With a planned unit development, it's saying, ‘what is being proposed can be considered for that flexibility, whether it's land use density, the layout and design requirements,’” he said, “it's a feature of a planned unit development provide that flexibility.”

The city worked with Kinney Engineering based in Homer to conduct the traffic impact analysis.

The hotel would not have a significant impact on traffic, according to the analysis which is based on national standards from the Highway Capacity Manual. However, it still recommended ways to improve pedestrian and non-motorized traffic.

While many members of the public had concerns about the study using traffic data collected in September to calculate numbers for the city’s peak traffic season in July, Kinney said this type of calculation had to be used because of the study’s timing.

“This happens to us all the time. We'll, we'll get we're going under contract on a, on a traffic impact analysis and it's not always convenient. It's not always seasonally convenient,” he said, “but we try to account for that delay.”

Representatives from Doyon also responded to public comment. They presented an updated site plan based on feedback from the last meeting. The new plan came with a viewing platform and a longer boardwalk added along its perimeter to improve non-motorized travel.

The commission decided to vote on the permit at a later meeting.

They approved recommending the rezoning by a vote of 4 to 3 with no votes from Commissioners Roberta Highland, Franco Venuti and Charles Barnwell.

However, the recommendation vacating the right of way failed 5 to 2 with yes votes from Commissioners Scott Smith and Mike Stark.

As they approached one in the morning, the commission also moved to continue discussion on remapping lots to the next meeting.

Doyon’s chief financial officer Patrick Duke said after the meeting that things are still up in the air for next steps, but that the company is open to making changes the conditional use permit calls for.

The planning commission will meet again on Jan. 17.

Jamie Diep is a reporter/host for KBBI from Portland, Oregon. They joined KBBI right after getting a degree in music and Anthropology from the University of Oregon. They’ve built a strong passion for public radio through their work with OPB in Portland and the Here I Stand Project in Taipei, Taiwan.Jamie covers everything related to Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, and they’re particularly interested in education and environmental reporting. You can reach them at jamie@kbbi.org to send story ideas.