Despite interest from local business, city will hold onto downtown lot

The City of Homer will hang on to a piece of land downtown that had previously been on the market for years in an attempt to sell it.

The Homer City Council failed to pass an ordinance at its Monday meeting that would have allowed the city to get an appraisal on what’s known as the old library lot and put it back on the market. The vote was 3-3, and Mayor Ken Castner declined to use his ability to vote to break that tie.

The 1.3 acre lot at 3713 Main Street was originally set aside as a potential site for when the city built a new library. When the Homer Public Library was built on Heath Street instead, the lot went on the market until 2018, when the council decided not to list it again due to lack of interest.

Recently, Sherry and Don Stead expressed interest in buying the property to expand their business, Grace Ridge Brewing. Sherry Stead told the council Monday that, if they were able to buy the lot, the couple planned to build an approximately $1 million facility there.

“To create year round jobs in Homer, to add to the tax rolls, and the money that the city would sell the lot for would go into the budget,” Stead continued. “We would be doing immediate construction using local construction companies. … Why that location? It’s in the business district. I want to be part of downtown Homer.”

Grace Ridge Brewing currently shares a building with UPS at the Homer Spit end of Ocean Drive.

Some council members were in favor of listing the property once again and getting it on the city property tax rolls.

“We have a lot in the middle of town that, in my mind, it has been for sale for years and years and years,” said Council member Donna Aderhold. “That sale lapsed. It shows as a lot to be disposed of in our land allocation plan. Whether that was our intention or not, that’s what it says.”

“I’m going to support selling this to whoever the highest bidder is,” Council member Caroline Venuti said. “I’d like to get it on the tax rolls, make some money off of it. I’d love to see some activity down in the main area of town. I think it would really be a positive showing that we have faith that our community is going to grow.”

Council member Rachel Lord also said she wanted to be responsive to the business community in town, referencing the fact that the discussion came about after the Steads expressed interest in the lot.

“I believe that public land is really very valuable,” she said. “And with that being said, we have a bunch of land in the center of the city. … There is an element of being responsive to the business community. I think that somebody (tonight) put forth the idea that has been put across this table a number of times over the years, that we are quote-on-quote ‘open for business.’ And I’m not really a giant fan of that because it’s kind of this blanket statement … but I will say that there is a lot going for the idea of being responsive and really … assessing interest, assessing private sector development and private sector interest in growing Homer’s economy.”

Others, like Council member Heath Smith, said the land is too valuable for the city to give up.

“I see firsthand the business that Grace Ridge runs. They run an excellent business,” Smith said. “They do a great service to the community. The list goes on, as has been testified to here. But that is not what drives our decisions. The economic benefit obviously is part of what we do, but, you know, when we chose not to re-list this last year … my stance then is the same as it is now. It has not changed in light of who has come to the table. And that is that we have very few land holdings that have the access that that (lot) does, with the utilities and with some developable benefit to the town center.”

The town center is an area on the east side of Main Street that includes city and Cook Inlet Region Inc. land.

Council member Shelly Erickson said she feels it will be good to hold onto the lot until the city has finished its work with the new police station and the HERC site. The old library lot could prove useful when it comes to those projects, she said.

Much of the public testimony from community members was based on Grace Ridge Brewery, the good it does for the community and how having it at the old library lot would benefit Homer. However, Lord pointed out that the ordinance would not allow the city to sell the lot directly to that business. The city would get an appraisal to find out what the fair market price is for the lot, and continue by following the normal procedure for selling a parcel of city land, she said, which includes considering all offers.

That was a sentiment echoed by local resident Larry Slone, who emphasized the need to be fair and equal in his public comments.

“This particular ordinance is not designed specifically for Grace Ridge,” Slone said. “They’re just one of the potential applicants that might take advantage of it being available. … This is a time and this is a place to put that land up for sale and give them (Grace Ridge) an opportunity, as well as me.”

“I may want to put in a bid, build a place up to 35 feet, sit there in my rocking chair and watch all the boats sail by,” he continued, to laughter from the council and public. “It probably wouldn’t have nearly the effect of revitalizing that general area. It wouldn’t have quite the social benefits to the town, that’s for sure.”

In the end, Smith, Erickson and Tom Stroozas were not convinced the lot should leave city hands. With those three council members voting against the measure and Aderhold, Venuti and Lord voting in favor, the ordinance failed in a tie. Castner had used his ability to vote to break a tie at the last city council meeting, in order for the measure to be introduced and make it to a public hearing, but said Monday he would not break another tie vote.

“This is about the city, and what we do have as land holdings, and the value of it,” Smith said. “And regardless of whether we have a plan right now on what that looks like is irrelevant to me because I really don’t want to dispose of what little we have, because it limits our ability in the future.”

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