Heliport, helipad ordinance causes some confusion

Sometimes more isn’t better, it’s more confusing. Case in point, city of Homer Ordinance 14-49, with 136 words in the title. While it was clear it had to do with helipads and heliports, small wonder it caused confusion.

“I have received comments from people that did not understand the ordinance,” City Manager Walt Wrede told the city council at its Oct. 27 meeting.

The point of the ordinance was to define heliports and helipads and the limit where they could be developed within the city, as Julie Engebretsen, deputy city planner, explained. Sifting through the title, the ordinance sought to:

• Delete heliports as a conditional use in rural residential, urban residential, central business district, general commercial 1, marine commercial and open space — recreation zoning districts;

• Delete heliports as a permitted use in the general commercial 2 district;

• Add helipads as a conditional use accessory to a hospital in the residential office zoning district and as a conditional use in the general commercial 2 and marine industrial zoning districts;

• Add heliports as a conditional use in the general commercial 2 district.

Kachemak Drive resident Mike McCarthy chose to be concise in listing his concerns about the placement of helipads and heliports: conflicts with aircraft; the impact on visitors, both human and feathered, in areas near the airport and the Homer Marine Spit industrial area; and noise pollution.

Rika Mouw took exception to possible helipad and heliport development through conditional use permits.

“With the exception of a helipad at the hospital or landings for emergency, why would any municipality the size of Homer encourage multiple areas for takeoffs and landings?” said Mouw. 

Opposed to helipads and heliports in Homer other than at the airport and hospital, Roberta Highland said, “I am asking you to disallow, totally disallow helicopters on the Spit even with a conditional use permit, which you have the power to do.”

Kachemak City resident Kevin Walker said he was aware of property available for lease near the airport and encouraged helipads and heliports be kept at the airport.

After hearing public testimony, council member Beau Burgess said rather than opening up areas for helipad and heliport development, “this ordinance eliminates or drastically limits” allowed locations. 

“It reduces it to an area right around the airport and marine industrial areas around the Spit,” said Burgess. “ 

An amendment from council member Francie Roberts eliminated heliports as a conditional use in the general commercial 2 district. Her amendment passed on four yes, one no vote, with Roberts, Catriona Reynolds, David Lewis and Bryan Zak voting yes; Burgess voting no. Council member Guy Van Dyke was absent. The amended ordinance passed the council without objection. In other business:

• After 20 years of operating a self-insured employee health insurance plan, the council passed Resolution 14-116, approving a two-year contract with Premera Blue Cross. 

In an Oct. 13 memo to Mayor Wythe and the council, City Manager Walt Wrede said total health insurance costs for 2015 were projected to be $2.1 million, an 18 percent increase from 2014. Premera’s proposal showed a reduction of about 30 percent or $600,000. Before the council unanimously approved the resolution, Burgess urged the council to keep in mind that the quoted rate could be “significantly higher” next year. 

• An intergovernmental wastewater agreement between Homer and Kachemak City, as detailed in Resolution 14-008, was given unanimous approval by the council.

• Also finding council approval was Resolution 14-117, hiring of an interim city manager for a term not to exceed six months. The interim city manager would work with outgoing city manager Walt Wrede prior to Wrede’s departure at the end of the year and also provide leadership while the search continues for a new city manager.

The next meeting of the Homer City Council is Nov. 24, with the Committee of the Whole meeting at 5 p.m. and the regular meeting 6 p.m.