Plans for mens’ residential addiction treatment center move forward

Editor’s note: The story has been changed to clarify that the Homer Advisory Planning Commission voted to approve a conditional use permit for Set Free Alaska, but that the permit has not yet been granted.

Set Free Alaska, a faith-based organization based in the Mat-Su Valley, received approval of a conditional use permit by the Homer Advisory Planning Commission last month that will allow it to move forward with plans to bring a 16-bed addiction treatment facility to Homer.

Set Free Alaska had previously approached the city asking for $175,000 in matching funds while it applied for a state grant to build the residential treatment facility for men. The city ultimately decided not to award those funds, but Set Free still got the $1.5 million grant from the state.

The permit was approved in a vote at the commission’s April 17 meeting for the facility to be built as a “group care home” at 396 E. Pioneer Avenue in the basement level of the Refuge Chapel, according to the April 17 meeting’s minutes. Vida’s Thai Food restaurant occupies the western unit of the commercial building.

This is in the city’s central business zoning district. Group care homes are allowed as a conditional use in that district. In an analysis of the permit application sent to the commission by Deputy City Planner Julie Engebretsen, it was stated that part of the purpose of the central business district is to provide a mixture of residential, nonresidential and professional uses.

“The proposal is compatible with the purpose of the district as it combines a residence with professional services,” the finding states.

The commission sent notices to 56 property owners in the area before the vote.

According to meeting minutes, Set Free Alaska will remodel a large portion of the building. It will include five bedrooms for the 16 beds, four offices, two counseling offices, one large and one small “group rooms,” a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and bathroom and laundry facilities.

The commission heard several in-person comments about the proposed project, and also received written comments. Some were supportive of the location choice while others questioned the logistics of having a treatment center in a busy part of town.

Set Free Alaska Executive Director Philip Licht was at the meeting and addressed several concerns. He told the commission that the facility will have a 24-hour wake staff, and that men involved in the program will have to be accompanied by a staff member when leaving the facility.

When another commenter expressed concerns about the building choice, saying it is not currently ADA accessible, Licht later commented that ADA accessibility is something that will be addressed during the remodel process, according to the minutes.

According to an article by KBBI Public Radio, Licht said at the time of the April 17 meeting that Set Free Alaska was still working to fundraise the rest of the money needed to complete the project. However, Set Free Alaska announced in an April 23 Facebook post that the organization is opening the men’s treatment facility in the fall of 2019.