Effort by Homer neighbors to vacate easement fails at planning commission

An effort by a group of Homer residents to close off a pedestrian easement running by their properties was shot down at a Monday planning commission meeting.

On Aug. 12, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission narrowly voted 5-4 to not vacate about 830 feet of a section line easement near the homes on Dorothy Drive of Peter and Kathleen Zuyus, Richard Koskovich and musician Zac Brown, of the Zac Brown Band. The road is in a subdivision below East Skyline Drive.

Parts of the section line were vacated in the 1990s, but a 20-foot-wide pedestrian easement was kept. The issue has been playing out at the state and borough level since the group of neighbors first sought to make Dorothy Drive a private road back in July 2018. The Department of Natural Resources did temporarily close a portion of the section line easement in May of this year, but then reversed the decision a month later in June after a Homer area citizen requested reconsideration.

Brown and his neighbors originally filed a petition to vacate the section-line easement with the DNR. The department issued a preliminary decision supporting the easement vacation, but referred it to the borough for the planning commission’s input.

Monday’s meeting brought scores of people to the borough’s assembly chambers. Dozens of people spoke to the issue — from homesteaders who say they use the easement to get to and from family and neighbor homes, to property rights activists from across the borough.

The petitioners were seeking to vacate the easement, which sees pedestrian use, due to privacy and safety concerns. They also wanted to vacate the upper pedestrian easement that runs between the Koskovich and Brown properties.

Brown was the first to offer public comment during Monday’s meeting. He stressed the lack of privacy he’s been experiencing since moving to the Homer neighborhood. He said he purchased land around his home that was slated for development to help keep a natural buffer and increase privacy for himself and his neighbors. Throughout his history of owning property, Brown said he’s had people break into his home because of his profession.

“I don’t really want attention unless I’m on a stage somewhere,” Brown said. “I’ve come here to have privacy and raise my kids in a safe place and provide a buffer around me to do that.”

Brown is claiming a nearby neighbor sought to extort him, and his been advertising the section line easement near Brown’s home as a popular hiking trail.

“Since I’ve been here I feel like I’m forced to give access to my property that I purchased,” Brown said. “I just need a safe place to raise my kids.”

Many Homerites attended the late night meeting to speak in support of their trails.

Randy Borland lives on Skyline Drive in Homer. He said he’s been using trails in the area of the petitioner’s neighborhood his whole life.

“My mom is known for walking up and down Skyline Drive,” Borland said. “When she was pregnant, she walked this trail to her family’s house. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been walking that trail my entire life.”

Borland said he hopes the same trails will exist for his children to visit their grandparents, who homesteaded in the area.

“Anyone saying this trail doesn’t exist is calling me a liar,” Borland said.

During Monday’s meeting, Peter Zuyus emphasized the safety issue the pedestrian easement presents to his neighborhood.

“Why would we harass (Alaska State Trooper) services with multiple calls a day for trespassing and stalking?” Zuyus said during Monday’s meeting. “We don’t know who they are — innocent gawkers or drug dealers and criminals using our homes and casing it?”

Jeanie Walker lives on the same section line easement brought into question at the commission meeting. She said she’s been walking the trail since 2003 when she and her husband moved to Homer. She objected to vacating the easement.

“Perceived threat should not be used to curtail public access. The petitioners chose to build their homes adjacent to a section line and very close to the road, on top of a corridor of trails used for decades,” Walker said. “I would also ask to not confuse trail hikers with gawking fans and persons with criminal intent, as petitioners seem to have done.”

At Monday’s meeting, petitioner Koskovich said that when he purchased his land in the 1980s, the title showed no pedestrian easements in the area.

“Had there been any, we certainly wouldn’t have bought up there,” Koskovich said.

Local representatives were also in attendance, including Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer), Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Nikiski) and Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Kenai/Soldotna).

Micciche said he was speaking on the issue as a private citizen, and noted Brown was an acquaintance of his. While visiting Brown’s home last year, Micciche said he noticed the issue of gawkers looking for the celebrity’s home.

“There is an issue,” Micciche said. “People are being harassed. While I was there, there were people looking, searching, hunting for Zac Brown. As Alaskans we have a constitutional expectation of privacy that I don’t believe he’s enjoying.”

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.