After more than a year of groundwork and debate by the City of Homer, the city council took a concrete step toward the development of a new comprehensive plan and update of the city’s Title 21 zoning and planning code by passing Resolution 23-119 during their last regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 23.
The resolution approves a contract with Agnew Beck Consulting of Anchorage, who was selected from three proposals submitted to the City of Homer as “the most responsive fitting the requirements of the City” by a committee in February of this year, to complete the above tasks. However, the resolution does also note that the “award is not final until notice is received by Agnew Beck Consulting from the City of Homer.”
According to an Oct. 1 memorandum to the council from city planner Ryan Foster, three recommendations have been included in the draft contract scope of work in addition to the development of the new comprehensive plan and update of Title 21 code:
Clarify that the comprehensive plan components to be updated include the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the 2011 Spit Comprehensive Plan and the 2006 Town Center Development Plan;
Establish deliverables and review time built into the entire process, including a 35%, 65%, 95% and final deliverable for the comprehensive plan and Title 21 code; and
Create a steering committee to aid in the guidance of developing the comprehensive plan and zoning code update.
Funding for the comprehensive plan and zoning code updates has been dedicated to the project by city council. The original $650,000 budget that was a subject of debate earlier this year was appropriated from the city’s general CARMA fund in an amendment to the FY23 capital budget by Ordinance 23-11, but that amount was reduced to $250,000 by a partial veto from Mayor Ken Castner. The City of Homer Biennial FY24-25 Capital Budget allocated $400,000 for the comprehensive plan update, returning the total project funding to $650,000, according to the memo.
Resolution 23-119 garnered some positive public support during the Oct. 23 meeting.
Karin Marks, chair of the Economic Development Advisory Commission, told the council that in talking to community members, she constantly hears that Homer needs to have a community vision.
“I know that we are very good with developing things organically,” she said. “But there is a point in time when you need to have something that’s more substantial, and that people, as they make decisions, can go to. I think that it’s pretty good to say that a comp plan is a community vision.”
The majority of the council also expressed support for the new comprehensive plan.
“It’s just becoming evident more every day that we really need to work on a comprehensive plan,” council member Donna Aderhold said during the council’s discussion on the resolution. “This is the time. I know it’s early, but there have been so many changes in our community. There’s many reasons that we need to do this.”
Council member Rachel Lord during the meeting spoke in support of the passage of Resolution 23-119.
“I think that we are at a place where there are so many people talking about the changes in our community, changes that they want to see and changes that they don’t want to see,” she said. “I think that we’re really well-poised for engaging in this conversation, and I think the contract that we have in front of us is going to serve the community as a whole really well.”
Council member Jason Davis also expressed excitement for getting to the future zoning code updates.
“In order to get to the zoning, we have to know what kind of zoning our community wants, and how people see us evolving over the next 20 years,” he said. “I think there have really been a lot of changes since the early 2010s, when we had the current draft.”
Approval of Resolution 23-119 was accomplished with a 5-1 vote by the council. The vote against was cast by council member Shelly Erickson, who said she saw how Homer’s changing demographics would necessitate a comprehensive plan update, but felt like “the process went wrong” in terms of involving several of the City’s commissions.
“I’m voting no for them, because they felt like their voice never got heard, and I feel like we have to be listening to what our commissions are saying,” she said.
Council member Caroline Venuti agreed, clarifying a point made by Erickson.
“I don’t think they’re against it as much as saying, ‘Why weren’t we pulled into it at the beginning?’ My impression is that they’re not saying ‘We don’t need this plan.’ I will vote for it,” she said. “But we have to learn from this.”
Previous reporting on the comprehensive plan updates can be found at www.homernews.com/news/city-council-postpones-vote-on-comp-plan-veto-override/ and www.homernews.com/news/comprehensive-plan-veto-stands/.
Resolution 23-119 and background materials can be read in full online at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-302.