Condo owners: City should follow judge’s order on gas assessments

At Monday’s Homer City Council regular meeting, the council agreed Ken Castner’s business condominium should be assessed by the lot. That wasn’t enough for other city condo owners, who in public testimony said the same logic should be applied to all condos in the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District.

In the Castner case, the council passed Resolution 15-012 amending the final roll to assess the Kachemak Bay Title Company building just once, on a per-lot basis, for the special assessment district. It now charges business condominium owners Ken Castner and Michael and Shila Hough one-third the $3,237.14 assessment, or $1,079.05, for each of three condos.

Last month, Castner served a court order on the city asking it to comply with a January 2014 decision by Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet that the natural gas assessment ordinance was “arbitrary and unreasonable” as it applied to condos. Castner wants the court to apply the per-lot assessment not just to his condo, but all condos. 

In a reply to Castner’s order to show cause, the city last month asserted Huguelet’s decision did not apply to about 100 other business and residential condos. 

While Castner has replied to the city’s response, Huguelet has not yet set a hearing or issued an order in the case.

Homer condominiums include other business condos as well as beachfront luxury condos at Land’s End Lodgings assessed as high as $800,000 and Landings Condominiums assessed as low as $22,000. Resolution 15-012 also corrected legal descriptions for those condos. Some condos assessed include units like 600-square-foot garages owned by some Land’s End condo owners.

In a reply to the city’s response, Castner said the city’s reasoning is contradictory.

“The city’s contrary reading of the order essentially suggests that it says, ‘You must not use this method to assess Castner’s property, because it is arbitrary and unreasonable, but feel free to use it to impose multiple assessments on similar properties, because that would be entirely sound and reasonable,’” Castner wrote.

In the first of two public hearings on the final roll of the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, condo owners argued that the city should follow Huguelet’s ruling. 

“It appears to us you’ve ignored Judge Huguelet’s decision and it appears you’ve ignored your attorney’s advice,” said Jim Lavrakas, a condo owner on Mountainview Avenue. “The judge will be spurred to make this decision clear. You can avoid embarrassment and do this by fixing the roll.”

Council member David Lewis asked Lavrakas how a condo differed over the service it got and a single-family lot home got.

“It’s simply a matter of how the gas is delivered to the property. There’s one line that comes off the main and it supplies the building,” Lavrakas said. “You’re basically supplying the property, a single property. We own a quarter of the property.”

After people testified, council member Beau Burgess asked them if they had objected earlier in the process. All the condo owners speaking said they did. 

“I have objected vigorously since then,” condo owner Amy Springer said. “Frankly, folks, I feel like I’m ignored, and it’s not just me.”

Condo owner Margarida Kondak said she objected on the initial assessment question — not to being assessed, but how condos are assessed, she said. Her four-condo building is the same as a neighboring four-unit apartment building.

“The assessment is for access to my lot, not to my condo,” she said. “I am getting the same access to my lot as my neighbor is getting and the hospital is a few doors down from me.”

One resident, Ben Gibson, said he did not have a condo but did object to how condos were assessed. He said he understood that his assessment would go up if condos were assessed by lot. The city should not try to reinterpret condo association law, he said.

“I think as this case illustrates, it was a mistake. You venture into the ownership. It’s a rat’s nest,” Gibson said.

Other property owners objected to the assessments for other reasons. Cheryl Tolman said her Kachemak Drive lot had been cut in half years ago when the road was built. As was done for a water-sewer assessment district, Tolman asked that there be a deferred assessment for seven similar split lots until or if the second lot got developed.

Gloria Corey, a longtime Homer resident living on a fixed income, asked for relief for an assessment on a second lot that she said was unbuildable.

“I am not against gas. I want you to know that. I’ve been a Homerite for a long time,” she said.

In comments at the end of the meeting, city employee Julie Engebretsen noted that the city has a low-income deferred assessment option.

A second public hearing is held in a special meeting starting at 6 p.m. Monday. Property owners have until 5 p.m. Monday to make written objections on the final roll to the clerk’s office. The council will fix errors and inequalities at its March 23 meeting.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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