Planning commission approves conditional use permit for Aspen Hotel across from Safeway

Workers could break ground on a new 72-room Aspen Hotel in Homer by May 2018 if all goes according to plan, according to the project’s architect.

The Homer Advisory Planning Commission allowed the hotel to advance a crucial step last week by granting its applicants a conditional use permit during their Nov. 1 meeting. The proposed project is a 43,350 square foot, three-story Aspen Hotel on a parcel of land that’s nearly 5 acres in Homer’s central business district next to the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center, according to the staff report in the meeting packet. The small chain already has locations in Juneau, Anchorage, Kenai. Soldotna, Sitka and Haines.

The project application proposes donating the land on the southern third of the parcel that is classified as tidal wetland “to the City or another entity for the purpose of extending the Islands and Ocean trail network,” according to the staff report.

Architect Rich Conneen said the hotel should blend well with the rest of the city.

“I’ve seen the architecture in Homer,” Conneen said. “It’s very similar to … the sort of pioneer architecture all over Alaska. … It’s wood construction with colorful finishes and nice textures … and when there’s a budget, really good landscaping. We have all those present in our hotel.”

Conneen said after the conditional use permit, there’s nothing left for the city of Homer to approve on the project. However, there are still several steps that need to be completed before a shovel can be put in the ground, he said. One big approval still needed is from the Alaska Department of Transportation for the hotel’s entry driveway, since the entry would be from the Sterling Highway, a state road.

The DOT approval will be pending until an easement can be applied to the property and a neighboring property that will allow vehicles to cross the common area, Conneen said. That easement won’t be able to be applied until the land is officially purchased, which hasn’t happened yet, he said.

Another step is the approval needed from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has say over wetlands.

“We have natural wetlands at the bottom of the property, basically the area that we’re giving away for the trail system,” Conneen said.

However, there is another strip of the parcel that’s classified as wetland where Aspen does plan to build, he said. It’s essentially a man-made wetland caused by a culvert that was put in across the highway that displaces water onto the property, Conneen said, and the project proposes to extend the culvert downhill. Once the Army Corps of Engineers approves that plan, the land can be purchased, which will allow the easement to be applied. Then the DOT will be able to approve the entry driveway.

The Aspen Hotel would generate 15 jobs in the area, Conneen said. He also mentioned that the hotel would use a color scheme he created specifically to look good when the sun is not out, or a palate meant for buildings in the North West that get less sunlight.

Aspen Hotels owner George Swift has been looking for an in to Homer for the last six or seven years, Conneen said.

“Homer honestly is not an easy town to acquire property or develop it,” he said.

Swift persisted because “he believes in it,” Conneen said. The most recently opened Aspen property in Sitka has seemed to help the area, he said.

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