The Homer City Council last week delayed until its next regular meeting a vote that could undo the mayor’s recent action to reduce funding for and cancel a contract to develop a new comprehensive plan.
Council members voted unanimously to postpone an override of the mayor’s appropriation reduction of Ordinance 23-11 and veto of Resolution 23-017 during their last regular meeting on March 13. After some lengthy debate on whether to override the veto and move forward with the comprehensive plan development or whether the mayor’s vetoes should stand, the council approved adding the matter as a discussion item to a special work session that was already scheduled for March 20. The council will vote on whether to approve or override the mayor’s vetoes at their next regular meeting on Tuesday, March 28.
Ordinance 23-11 appropriated $650,000 from the city’s general CARMA fund for the purpose of developing a new comprehensive plan and a complete Title 21 zoning and planning code. Resolution 23-017 approved a contract with Agnew Beck Consulting out of Anchorage not to exceed $650,000 to develop the comprehensive plan and code.
Both the ordinance and resolution were unanimously passed by the council in their Feb. 27 meeting. However, Mayor Ken Castner, who has previously spoken against the need for a new comprehensive plan at this time, warned the council during that meeting that he would not sign Ordinance 23-11 or Resolution 23-017 until he had considered partial vetoes.
Castner notified the council in a March 9 memorandum that he reduced the amount authorized in Ordinance 23-11 for a new comprehensive plan from $650,000 to $250,000. The remaining funds were then “appropriated for code revisions, which can be done in compliance with the current comprehensive plan,” the memo states.
“I know that there are some sections of the city’s comprehensive plan that need attention in the near term, but the current plan is only five years old and a complete rewrite does not seem warranted at this time,” Castner wrote in the memo.
In a second memo to the council, also dated March 9, Castner vetoed Resolution 23-017, thus canceling the contract awarded to Agnew Beck.
“The appropriation supporting the contract award has been significantly reduced and the city manager does not believe the contract amount can be reduced under the terms of the solicitation,” the memo states. “The appropriation must precede the contract award.”
The mayor is authorized by Alaska Statute 29.20.270 and Homer City Code 02.08.070 to veto ordinances, resolutions, motions, or other actions of the city council. He may also strike or reduce appropriation items under this authorization. Mayoral vetoes may be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote of the council either within 21 days following the veto’s enactment or at the next regular council meeting, whichever occurs later, city code states.
During the March 13 meeting, the council appeared divided as to whether they would support or override the mayor’s vetoes.
Council member Donna Aderhold reiterated that the city has been taking steps toward the development of a new comprehensive plan for approximately a year, and expressed confusion as to why the process would stop now.
Council member Caroline Venuti echoed Castner’s stance that the city does have a current working plan, and expressed concern over the high cost for development of a new one at this time.
Council member Shelly Erickson reiterated her belief expressed during the Feb. 27 meeting that priority should be placed on updating the Title 21 zoning and planning code rather than the comprehensive plan, and that the two projects should either be done at the same time or the comprehensive plan should later be made to fit the updates to Title 21 code.
Council member Storm Hansen said that she agreed with the plan development and the need for community involvement, but did not agree with the amount of money allocated for the project.
Council member Rachel Lord reminded the council that the development of a new comprehensive plan was an opportunity for the community to engage in Homer’s future, and spoke in favor of Agnew Beck as a tool to be used in the project.
“One of my primary feelings … has to do with the importance of community engagement, which I believe actually comes through third-party facilitation. I do not think that robust comprehensive planning happens internally,” she said. “There is a lot of consternation about the rate of change [in this community], and … if we want to substantively make changes to our planning and zoning code, I will not support that happening outside of the type of community engagement that will come through redoing our comp plan.”
The comprehensive plan was last updated in 2018, Homer News reported previously. With updates scheduled every 10 years, a new comprehensive plan should be developed in 2028. However, with the many city development projects that are either upcoming or already underway, many in the community are concerned that that’s too far away.
“The concerns with land use, development, and the pace at which this community is moving is the driving factor that pushed us … to move on this now and not in 2028,” Lord said.
The council unanimously postponed the override vote until further discussion could be had during the March 20 work session.
During the March 20 work session, city manager Rob Dumouchel spoke again on the push for developing a new comprehensive plan now rather than waiting for the update scheduled to occur in 2028.
“The reality is that over time, especially if we greatly increase reasons to be in Homer, you’re going to see more … pressure for certain kinds of development that I don’t know that the 2008 or 2018 [comprehensive plans] would be extremely supportive of,” he told the council members present at the work session.
Dumouchel also reiterated the importance of the opportunity to work with the public that updating the comprehensive plan now would bring.
Regarding cost and bringing in an outside consultant, Dumouchel told the council that updating the comprehensive plan and codes are “very interdisciplinary projects,” and while the city does have “a strong team of folks who can do a lot of the segments,” there are certain parts of the project for which the city lacks people to accomplish those tasks in a professional capacity.
Council member Davis asked whether, if the veto stands and the city then has a fraction of the originally appropriated funds to work with, the city would still be able to modernize the zoning code, and what the downsides would be to continuing to use the existing comprehensive plan. The city could “clean up and modernize language” in the code, but would lack a real basis to make any more comprehensive changes, according to Dumouchel.
Council members Venuti and Erickson reconfirmed their stances to support the mayor’s vetoes.
Mayor Castner stated his belief that the vetoes would be upheld at the next regular council meeting, and encouraged city staff to “spend the next three months prior to the adoption of the next budget to come up with a different approach” regarding planning and updates.
Previous reporting on the comprehensive plan and council’s vote on Ordinance 23-11 and Resolution 23-017 can be found at https://www.homernews.com/news/city-council-funds-new-comprehensive-plan-development/.
The full recording of the March 13 meeting, as well as supplemental materials, can be found on the city council website at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-277.
The full recording of the March 20 work session pertaining to the comprehensive plan and the veto override can be found under “Work Session Recording 2” at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-work-session-1.
The council’s next regular meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 28 at 6 p.m.