The Homer City Council approved the development of a new comprehensive plan and a complete update of the Title 21 zoning and planning code at their last regular meeting on Feb. 27. The council adopted Ordinance 23-11, which appropriates funds not to exceed $650,000 from the city’s general fund for the development of the comprehensive plan and planning code, as well as Resolution 23-017, which approves contracting Agnew Beck Consulting out of Anchorage for the development of this project.
The development of a new comprehensive plan has been a priority that the city council has been working toward since March 2022, council member Donna Aderhold said at the Feb. 27 meeting.
Homer’s comprehensive plan is “a long-term planning document meant to encapsulate the core of what residents believe the city’s goals and focus should be going forward,” Homer News previously reported in 2018.
The current city’s comprehensive plan was created in 2008, with an internal update completed in 2018. However, with the many new projects either being planned by the city or already underway, including those for the Homer Spit and the town center, the city’s vision for continued development has changed greatly since the comprehensive plan was last brought under consideration.
“There’s going to be a lot of potential change in the next 10 years,” Aderhold said. “I don’t think that our current comprehensive plan comes close to addressing what that is.”
The council discussed Ordinance 23-11 at length, debating the necessity of a new comprehensive plan, cost, and whether the code updates should be prioritized over the comprehensive plan or vice versa. Although several council members voiced the above concerns, the majority of the council supported the ordinance and the efforts to bring both the comprehensive plan and the zoning and planning code up to date.
Mayor Ken Castner spoke against the new comprehensive plan, arguing that the existing plan is sufficient and that the priority should be to update Title 21 and Title 22 code.
Aderhold echoed questions posed by the Homer community as to the project’s cost and timeline.
“Why is $650,000 the appropriate amount of money to spend on this project? Why [can’t it] be scaled back in cost? And why should we do it now and not wait? We’ve had comments that we should wait until we know what’s happening more with the harbor expansion project,” she said.
The estimated cost for the project was put together based on past experience with similar projects, according to City Manager Rob Dumouchel. Dumouchel also noted that the city currently has several “really good, but disjointed, [specific] plans … floating around out there,” which the new comprehensive plan will absorb.
“This is our opportunity to not burn the public out on repeated engagement. We can have a really holistic, comprehensive conversation and get into it that way … [and] set that big-picture vision, instead of spreading it out forever,” Dumouchel said.
The comprehensive plan and zoning code are the two biggest tools available to the city to impact land use patterns and to facilitate solutions for the recent development challenges Homer has been facing, including the ongoing housing crisis, according to Dumouchel. Updating both at the same time is also vital for the effective implementation of upcoming projects, he said.
“A lot of our issues are very interdependent,” Dumouchel said. “The harbor doesn’t make any sense if the town doesn’t upgrade itself. The expansion of sidewalks and trails and transportation — if these things aren’t done together, it doesn’t work very well in [regard to] housing.”
Council member Shelley Erickson asked if the zoning code could be updated before the comprehensive plan, voicing concerns over the project’s current two-year schedule that will update the comprehensive plan in the first year and update code in the second year.
Dumouchel clarified that there are issues with the current code that can be fixed now. However, the comprehensive plan will be built to inform the zoning code, and the project overall needs to follow a certain order of operations, according to Dumouchel.
“If you think of it … like a pyramid, that first layer is [the comprehensive] plan. The next layer is zoning. The point on top would be the building code,” he said. “They all influence each other.”
Public comments received by the council were mixed; the majority of oral testimonies shared during the meeting were in firm support of passing Ordinance 23-11, while written testimony submitted prior to the meeting balked at the price tag and urged the council to defeat the ordinance or spend funds on updating in-house.
The Port and Harbor Advisory Commission also submitted a memo to the council that, during their regular meeting on Feb. 22, they unanimously passed a motion supporting the comprehensive plan and Title 21 rewrite and recommending adoption of Ordinance 23-11 by the city council.
Although Ordinance 23-11 and Resolution 23-017 were adopted, as of press time neither document has been signed into effect. Castner alerted the council that he would not sign either document until he had considered partial vetoes.
The next city council meeting will be held on Monday, March 13 at 6 p.m. The full audio recording of the Feb. 27 regular meeting can be found at cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-276. Previous reporting on the 2018 comprehensive plan updates can be found at homernews.com/news/city-takes-suggestions-on-comprehensive-plan/.
Delcenia Cosman can be reached at email@example.com.