Judge orders city to cease assessing condos differently

In a harsh rebuke to how the city of Homer assessed condominiums, Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet on Friday afternoon ordered the city to comply with his Jan. 6, 2014, order in Ken Castner v. City of Homer where he called that method “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

“It is hereby ordered that the City fully comply with the Order and immediately cease using the method for imposing special assessments on condominium unit owners that was ruled unlawful by the Order,” Huguelet wrote in his order today.

The judge’s order came about after Ken Castner in February filed a motion asking the city to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing comply with Huguelet’s 2014 order. The city challenged that motion, and then said because it charged Castner’s condo in the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building one-third of the $3,237.14 assessment, it had complied with Huguelet’s decision.

Castner asserted that the decision should apply to all the condo owners as Huguelet ruled.

“The order says ‘Get with it,’” Castner said in reaction to Huguelet’s ruling today.

Acting City Manager Marvin Yoder said on Friday that he had read the order and talked to City Attorney Thomas Klinkner.

“That has some very serious implications for the city as far a book keeping and also some serious implications for the homeowners in the city,” Yoder said of Huguelet’s order. “We have to take a hard look at it because of the serious implications down the line.”

Condo owners expressed relief at the news.

“Thank you for the good news, and what a beautiful weekend to get it on,” said Amy Springer, owner of a condo on Bay Avenue.

“I think it’s great news, and I’m glad the judge clarified the order so it’s clear to the city of Homer what they should do,” said Margarida Kondak, owner of a condo in a four-unit building on Mountainview Avenue.

Kondak’s condo is near a four-unit apartment building exactly the same floor plan and lot size. The city assessed all properties by tax parcel number and not by lot, so that the apartment building would pay one assessment while a condo in a four-unit condominium complex would pay four assessments.

“Well, I think it’s fantastic,” said Shelli Gordon, owner of one of the Land’s End Lodges on the Homer Spit. “It saves me the trouble of filing a complaint with the Superior Court.”

Gordon noted Land’s End Resort is a $6 million property next door to the lodges on a similar sized lot. It got one assessment while the lodges got 28 assessments, some for garages.

“I think what the judge is doing is fair. I also think any small child could have told you this. It’s simple,” Gordon said.

Council member Bryan Zak said that it was interesting how the decision had gone over the past two years and is now at a point where the city will have to comply. Zak said earlier he had leaned toward the condo owners’ rationale.

“From what I heard in testimony that Amy Springer provided, it seemed to make it nice and clear and succinct,” he said. “I think the judge’s decision kind of says it all, really.”

Zak said the city attorney had a different interpretation.

“We’ve been pretty much following our attorney’s advice on this one,” he said. “It’s hard to convince any other council members when the attorney is advising one thing — it’s hard to convince other council members differently.”

In 2013, Castner, an owner of a condominium in the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building on Ben Walters Lane, challenged the city ordinance establishing how property owners would be assessed in the natural gas assessment district.

Castner argued the ordinance was unjust, and the assessment should have been by lot. Huguelet agreed and issued his 2014 decision in January 2014. Huguelet struck down the portion of Ordinance 13-02 setting up the assessment district that required condo owners to pay by parcel, not by lot. In February 2014, the city announced it would not appeal Huguelet’s decision.

However, when the city issued a draft roll of the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, it assessed Castner’s Kachemak Bay Title Company Building condo the full amount. After Castner filed his motion, the Homer City Council passed a resolution changing the assessment for that one building to $3,237.14, or $1,079.05, for each of three condos.

However, the council did not change assessments for other condo owners.

An email message was sent to other council members seeking a reply, but as of late Friday afternoon other council members had not replied.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.