Council OKs change to zoning code permitting

The Homer City Council on Monday approved a change to the city zoning code that would make it easier for property owners to get zoning permits when they have existing zoning violations. Under the old code, a property owner would have to fix any violations before getting a new permit. The changes now make it possible for a property owner to get a new permit without fixing violations, but the permit may be conditioned on fixing those problems.

Ordinance 14-056(a) passed without discussion or objection on Monday. The decision had been postponed from the Jan. 12 meeting. At a public hearing at that meeting, citizen activist Frank Griswold said it was premature to consider the ordinance while a final decision had not been made on his appeal of a conditional use permit granted to Seabright Survey + Design and landowner Jose Ramos. Coincidentally, the findings of that appeal were released on Monday.

In March 2014, Griswold appealed the CUP approved by the Homer Advisory Planning Commission to Seabright, the developer of Ramos’ property off Heath Street. That property includes the Horizon Satellite building and other structures. 

Seabright sought to build a duplex there. The CUP allows the duplex, but required Seabright to get a zoning permit for a sixth structure on the property. Griswold asserted that under city code, zoning violations should be corrected before Seabright got a zoning permit.

The council, acting as the Board of Adjustment, affirmed some of the planning commission’s findings and remanded for reconsideration other findings. In July the board held a remand hearing and approved CUP 13-13. Griswold again appealed in September, another hearing was held in December, and in the latest decision, the board upheld the planning commission’s decision on remand.

In a separate case related to CUP 13-13, Griswold also appealed to the council a denial of a public records request. Griswold sought to get records showing city attorney billing records related to CUP 13-13.  

Former City Manager Walt Wrede initially denied the request, but released some information. Other information was withheld on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. 

Griswold claimed billing records weren’t privileged. After a hearing, the city council upheld the records request denial. Griswold said he plans to appeal that action to Superior Court.

In a staff report to the planning commission regarding revisions to city code in Ordinance 14-56, City Planner Rick Abboud wrote that 21.70.010 had been cited in appeals of CUPs — that is, Griswold’s appeals. The city attorney provided a suggested amendment for the planning commission.

“Our city’s most experienced litigant has stated he believes all development found not to be in compliance must be removed prior to issuing a permit and no permit may be issued after the fact,” Abboud wrote in the staff report, referring to Griswold.

In written and public testimony, Griswold claimed the council wanted to pass Ordinance 14-56 “to accommodate Jose Ramos and legitimize his illegal CUP,” Griswold wrote. “The Board/Council never admits errors on the part of the city; it just changes the code to legitimize illegal conduct.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, interim City Manager Marvin Yoder told the council the city filed a stop-work order on shed construction done by Horizon Satellite on the Ramos property. Horizon Satellite didn’t have a zoning permit for the shed. The shed was built on skids and the city gave Horizon Satellite 30 days to remove it. 

Ramos is out of state and was not aware of the shed construction.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at