No room in our town for inn — a mistake of biblical proportion

When you visit paradise, the last few hours of your last day you begin to feel a sense of regret. Did you stay long enough? What did you miss while on the island? Did you squeeze every last sight, sound, smell, taste and sunset out of your brief stay? 

For those of us that choose to live in Homer, these feelings are short lived because you are leaving one paradise for another. Oh the sunrises and sunsets that await you in Homer; the food, the people, the wilderness and beauty all around you. Good to get out, great to come home to Homer by the sea.

The morning after Tiffanie and I returned from a short trip over to Maui, we just had to drive up to Baycrest and take in the majesty of the Kachemak Bay while the sun was kissing the tops of the Kenai Mountains. Tiffanie was taking a panoramic photo and I was looking over her shoulder; that’s when I saw it: The Bay View Inn. 

I can’t recall the last time I bothered to glance over at the small little inn resting on top of an enormous bluff overlooking the world. 

Grabbing my camera, I zoomed in for a quick photo of an inn doomed by the city of Homer — my city.

How could it be, that an inn providing shelter, revenue, taxes and employment for more than 50 years can fall through a “loophole,” a loophole of our own making, in our town. 

The Bayview Inn has not been condemned by the county inspector for structural failure, or asbestos, or lead-based paint, or even taken through the eminent domain process for highway expansion. At least if taken through eminent domain, there would be a process for some compensation. 

No, the Bayview Inn has been shuttered by our own misguided hand; a hand that set out to create on “other people’s” property, an image of what “we” want our town to look like. 

The Bayview Inn was lovingly cared for by Dennis Novak since the early 1980s. It would be fair to say that Dennis polished his little place above Homer like no other innkeeper before him. While caring for his slice of the American Dream, Dennis had a tragic accident that took his life. With grief upon his sister, she traveled the many thousands of miles from her home to Homer to care for her brother’s belongings and say goodbye. While here, she ended up in the hospital herself, and once recovered traveled back home. 

What would become of her brother’s inn? It was a question that she never thought she’d be asking herself. 

When her decision to sell was final, she put the property on the market. It was when buyers began to consult with the Homer Planning and Zoning Department that it was realized that, due to a “loophole” in the nonconforming use code, the Bayview Inn was out of compliance and can no longer operate as an inn. 

In a nutshell, the Bayview Inn was annexed into the City of Homer around 2000, at which time it was granted “non-conforming use status.” In order to maintain this status, there cannot be a lapse of operation for more than 12 months consecutively. 

Due to Dennis’ untimely death, this 12-month period was exceeded, thus rendering the Bayview Inn no longer eligible for operation as an inn. It is currently in the Rural Residential Zoning District. 

City Manager Walt Wrede attempted to correct this problem by introducing an ordinance that would account for the death of a property owner; he was joined by the mayor in this effort, however, it was thwarted by the city planner.

After the ordinance failed, and upon receipt of an email from a frustrated member of the public who is close to Dennis’ sister, Walt replied “I would still encourage somebody to submit any information or documentation that the facility was occupied, or maintained, caretaker, or evidence to show that its status as a motel was being maintained.”

Dennis’ sister didn’t want to skirt the code/law; the fact is that the Inn was not operational despite best efforts made.

Join me in demanding that the Homer City Council do the right thing, and fix the code so that the Bayview Inn may continue to operate, and so that nothing like this will happen in the future. 

Henry Ford wanted an 8-cylinder engine. He brought his best and brightest engineers to his office, gave the instructions to create an 8-cylinder engine by a certain deadline.

They balked and whined that it couldn’t be done. Mr. Ford said it will be done. The engineers worked around the clock, time after time their best efforts failed; they approached Mr. Ford with trepidation and shared the bad news. He said, “I’ll have an 8-cylinder engine, now go back to work.”

Of course you know that Mr. Ford got what he wanted. Where there is a will there is a way. We must now demonstrate the will, the smart dedicated city employees will find the way. Of that I have no doubt. 

Let’s make room in our town for this inn.

Chris Story is the owner-broker of Story Real Estate and the host of Alaska Matters, a radio show that airs every Tuesday on KPEN 102 FM.