In the context of the continual friction between serving the needs of harbor and Homer Spit users while protecting some of the environmental values that make Homer attractive, the Homer Planning Commission is set to hold a second public hearing on a conditional use permit application to expand and improve a parking lot by the Seafarers Memorial on the Spit.
The hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday at Homer City Hall.
“There’s definitely competing space demands out there, whether it’s camping, demand for parking,” said Deputy City Planner Julie Engebretsen. “… This whole land-use conversation is bigger than this one parking lot. I feel like that’s what’s swirling around in the background there.”
If approved, conditional use permit 19-07 would allow the city to improve the existing lot between the Cannery Row Boardwalk and the Seafarers Memorial by filling in a section along the existing Kachemak Bay side of the lot. In the first phase, beach grass and roots would be dug up and temporarily stored.
Spoils from periodic harbor and channel dredging would be placed along the lot and compacted. The beach grass would then be replanted along the edge of the parking lot to stabilize the slope. The fill would cover an existing grassy area of the beach, but would still be behind the storm berm. Unlike other sections of the Spit, a wide, grass filled beach runs along the bay, and the beach is relatively stable.
Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said he does not know if the fill would be in tidelands that requires a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, but that the city would apply for a permit anyway and let the Corps decide.
Hawkins noted that improved parking has been a long-term goal of the Port and Harbor Commission, the group that makes recommendations on use of the harbor and surrounding area.
“From their perspective … That would be a fairly low-cost project to do using dredge materials to fill the space,” he said.
Commissioners are divided on if the lot should be paved or left as gravel.
According to the CUP application, in Phase 1, the parking lot would remain gravel, but bumpers would be put in the lot to organize angled parking. Americans with Disability Act, or ADA, compliant spaces also would be put in. Angled parking along the Homer Spit Road from the southeast end of the Cannery Row Boardwalk would be removed. A 10-foot wide pedestrian lane would go through the parking lot to allow access from the Seafarers Memorial to the boardwalk area. An ADA-accessible gravel path also would be built down to the beach. The lot also would include some landscaped areas.
In Phase 2, another section would be filled in, adding 50 more spaces, and the parking lot would be paved. Most likely the estimated $635,000 cost of the project would be paid for over time by parking fees, Hawkins said. When both phases are done, about 70 spaces would be added, he said, creating a lot of about 200 spaces. The project is part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, with $15,000 already appropriated from the Homer Area Roads and Trails fund for preliminary engineering design and permitting.
“As far as parking lots go, when we’re done with green spaces and grasses and things, it would be a pretty good looking parking lot,” Hawkins said. “But it would be a parking lot. That’s the rub.”
The improvements also would better organize entering and leaving the lot. Concrete curbs would prevent people from parking along the road, as they do now. The Homer Spit Road is a state highway managed by the city. State law prohibits parking within 8 feet of the edge of a state road.
The planning commission held an initial public hearing at its Oct. 2 meeting and tabled action to the Nov. 6 meeting to allow for more public input. Five people raised questions about the project and the impact on Spit green space while one supported adding parking. Most everyone noted the need for more organized parking on the Spit. The zoning designation is Open Space Recreation District and thus requires a conditional use permit.
If the project was private, the commission’s discussion would be driven by code, Engebretsen said.
“The issue before the planning commission is this particular conditional-use permit application, but there’s definitely more room for that conversation about what’s happening outside on the Spit,” she said.
In 2008, the city rewrote rules to better manage Spit parking. The angled parking spaces in front of the Cannery Row boardwalk were limited to three-hour parking, with some 15-minute loading zones. Parking in front of the Coal Point Trading buildings also was limited to 15-minute loading and unloading parking. Lots were paved at several ramps, with paid parking charged except for drop-off zones. All other areas are free.
Most lots are gravel, with spaces delineated not at all, or by ropes and pylons marking out rows. Seven-day parking is allowed in most lots, including the Seafarers Memorial lot. As the Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan notes, “Areas considered prime parking for day users and retail customers are used extensively by long-term parkers.”
Hawkins noted one common habit of motorists.
“Nobody walks any further than they absolutely have to,” he said. “…I don’t know how to deal with that other than to recognize that’s a fact, that people will park as close as possible.”
The Spit comprehensive plan identifies 15 parking areas from in front of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon to the lot at the end of the road. That doesn’t include areas like a space at the corner of Fish Dock Road and the Homer Spit Road used to store fishing gear or another lot near the Homer Spit Campground used to store dredge spoils.
“Just remember, every access area in the harbor has mixed use,” Hawkins said. “… I get a lot of comments from folks they can’t find a space — everything’s used up.”
One person commenting at the Oct. 2 meeting, Nancy Hillstrand, raised concerns about erosion. Hillstrand favored keeping the beach undeveloped below the Seafarers Memorial lot. She said the city should pay attention to erosion and consider the Green Infrastructure planning philosophy. Green Infrastructure is an idea that considers things like erosion, flooding and groundwater movement as part of planning decisions and development.
Hawkins said mitigating erosion is part of Spit planning. At Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, City Manager Katie Koester wrote in her manager’s report that the city has asked the Corps of Engineers and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to work together to develop a long-term maintenance plan to mitigate and stabilize erosion on the Spit. That could include things like beach protection and beach nourishment.
On the larger issue of Spit parking, Hawkins said the city has limited tools.
“You can create more parking,” he said. “You can put in time limits. You can start charging. You can change people’s behavior by doing these things. … Nobody likes the idea, but if you come down June to mid-August, you shake your head.”