As anyone who has worked in the wedding planning business knows, brides can be compared to the Incredible Hulk. Don’t make the bride mad. You won’t like it when the bride gets mad.
Some Alaska politicians and public safety officials learned that lesson this spring when the Alaska Fire Marshal’s Office shut down Second Star Mansion, a popular Homer wedding and event venue on Kachemak Drive, in February. Fortunately for about a dozen disappointed brides and their families, after months of legal wrangling and discussions, on May 7 the fire marshal’s office reversed its decision and signed off on a plan review allowing Second Star to operate.
“It took some whittling. I think the owner compromised and so did the state,” said Homer architect Lawrence Peek, the hero of the story credited by Second Star owners Andrea and Gene Anaya and several grateful brides for helping resolve the shutdown.
In early February, the Alaska State Fire Marshal’s office received a citizen complaint about Second Star, Alaska Department of Public Safety Public Information Officer Austin McDaniel wrote in an email. Following an investigation, the fire marshal’s office determined Second Star “did not have a plan review prior to engaging in commercial operations at the facility.” The office issued a stop-work order until a plan review could be done and approved.
McDaniels wrote that the Anayas have now submitted and officials approved a plan review meeting of what’s called the R3 criteria in Alaska’s fire code. Renters of Second Star can use up to six of its sleeping rooms, will not use any rooms on the third floor for lodging and will not hold any large events or gatherings indoors. He wrote that “residential housing that is four-plex or larger in Alaska must have a plan review approved by the State Fire Marshal.” Information about plan reviews can be found at https://dps.alaska.gov/Fire/PRB/Home.
The shutdown came to the attention of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office when the Anayas sent out cancellation letters to people who had booked Second Star for this spring and summer. At the suggestion of one of the affected brides, an Anchorage lawyer, the Anayas included contact information for the governor’s office, Andrea Anaya said. That led to emails and phone calls to the governor, the Alaska Department of Public Safety and even Homer Mayor Ken Castner.
The Anayas bought the house that would become Second Star in 2008 as a Homer vacation home for their family. Raised in Eagle River, Andrea Anaya made her fortune in developing online education courses teaching the complicated coding system for health care and insurance records. Now living in Utah, the Anayas own second homes in Anchorage and Halibut Cove, as well as Second Star.
In 2010, working with Beachy Construction, they began a remodel of the home near the Northern Enterprises Boatyard. They designed Second Star around a Peter Pan theme, from the book by J.M. Barrie. The home includes a pirate ship and a doorway into Neverland. The name comes from Peter Pan’s description of how to find Neverland: “Second star to the right and then straight on ‘til morning.” Anaya said her family designed the expansion and remodel to be a vacation rental similar to what’s now called a VRBO, or “vacation rental by owner.”
“There was nothing like that in Alaska at the time,” Anaya said. “… I think that Homer is the most beautiful place in the world. ”
Construction finished in the fall of 2013, and the Anayas began renting it. Second Star includes a 3,500-square-foot deck; six bedroom suites; 11 full bathrooms; a Turkish bath, sauna, steam room, hot tub and infinity pool; a 12-seat dining table; three fireplaces; a game room, theater room and library, and a Neverland children’s play area with a pirate ship.
According to its website, the mansion rents for as much as $3,450 a night on peak season weekends for a three-day minimum stay. Now listed for sale at $8 million, Realtor.com called it “the most expensive home in Alaska.”
When Beachy Construction started the remodel, Anaya said they checked with the fire marshal to see if it needed a fire plan review, but was told Second Star didn’t need one. Second Star has been rented out since 2013, and it has been the venue for events like a Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center mixer, an Alaska Farmers Market Organizers Conference and numerous weddings.
Anaya said she found out about the stop-work order when she got seven phone calls in five minutes from the fire marshal’s office. She said the fire marshal’s office claimed Second Star fell under a new section the state added in 2017 to the International Building Code, which is the code Alaska uses to regulate structures falling under fire marshal review.
That code added a definition for a structure called a “bed and breakfast,” defined as “a single family home that is the owner’s primary residence and contains more than six sleeping rooms.”
Since Second Star isn’t the Anayas’ primary residence, isn’t a bed and breakfast, and isn’t rented out by the room, Anaya said she didn’t understand how the code applied to it.
“We’ll do whatever they want us to do,” Anaya said of initial attempts to resolve the issue. “How do we get it done quickly so our guests who are booked in April can get it approved in April?”
With the COVID-19 pandemic raging in the summer of 2020, Anaya said they had earned a quarter of the revenue in a normal year. Things looked better for 2021, with 15 weddings booked. Shutting down Second Star would not only hurt the Anayas but the caterers, florists and other businesses associated with weddings.
“Why would the Alaska State Fire Marshal want to do this to Alaska tourism and Alaska’s business community after 2020?” Anaya asked.
Discussions with the fire marshal’s office stalled, and so in April the Anayas filed a civil suit in Anchorage Superior Court seeking an injunction to have the stop-work order put on hold. The judge denied the injunction.
At the May 10 Homer City Council meeting, Castner explained what happened next. He said Dunleavy’s office told disappointed brides and their families to call Castner. Since this was a state issue and not something the city had authority over, Castner said he didn’t know what he could do. But he knew Peek had experience in fire codes and called him.
“The guy did a really wonderful job for this community,” Castner said of Peek.
Anaya praised Peek for his assistance. Peek downplayed his role.
“This was just a voluntary thing, and I wanted to help a bunch of gals get married,” he said.
Peek visited the mansion, took measurements, reviewed the code and had a meeting with fire marshals. Jeff Turner, deputy director of communications for Dunleavy, said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell and his staff worked out a solution “that ensured the safety of guests using the facility while allowing the business to remain open.”
“I think the owner stepped up. I think the state came around and became more amenable to discussion,” Peek said. “I think constant pressure from the brides didn’t hurt.”
Peek said at least two brides have invited him to their weddings.
“This was a wonderful solution to a misunderstanding,” he said. “Everyone’s going to move forward and we’re going to have tons of beautiful brides married off this summer.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.