Proposed addiction treatment center won’t be in Refuge Chapel building

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that resident Frank Griswold gave the City of Homer notice of intent to appeal an Advisory Planning Commission decision, as well as submitted an official appeal.

A long-debated addiction treatment facility originally planned for downtown Homer will move to a new location after a local resident appealed the conditional use permit that would have allowed it and the organization withdrew its permit application.

Set Free Alaska, a religious nonprofit that runs an inpatient addiction treatment center in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, has been planning to bring a similar facility to Homer. It would house more than a dozen clients and serve as an inpatient treatment program for men, as well as provide outpatient resources for women.

The organization won a grant from the state of Alaska for $1.5 million to help create the facility. Executive Director Phillip Licht has estimated the project will cost about $3.2 million. The Homer City Council debated over the course of several weeks whether to provide matching funds for the project, but ultimately decided against it.

Set Free Alaska planned to renovate a section of the building on Pioneer Avenue that currently houses the Refuge Chapel. A conditional use permit that would allow this was approved by the planning commission at its April 17 meeting in a 6-1 vote.

The permit was applied for under Homer city code as a group care home in the Central Business District, according to a planning commission meeting packet. City staff found that the proposed use of the building by Set Free Alaska fit within city zoning code.

“The purpose of the Central Business District includes providing a mixture of residential and nonresidential uses, and professional services,” staff wrote in their findings. “The proposal is compatible with the purpose of the district as it combines a residence with professional services.”

In his staff report to the planning commission at their May 15 meeting, City Planner Rick Abboud notified commission members that the city had gotten a notice of intent to appeal the decision on the conditional use permit that had been approved in April. Abboud got an email from resident Frank Griswold, who over the years has filed several court cases against the city for various zoning issues, asking Abboud to notify him “if/when a Zoning Permit is issued for new construction at 397 E Pioneer Avenue so that I may timely exercise my appeal rights.”

Griswold submitted his appeal on May 6.

In response, Set Free Alaska withdrew its application to renovate that building.

“We believe it is within our legal right to pursue this project as is, in this current location. We also agree with the Planning Commission’s decision issuing this permit,” Licht wrote in a letter to the city. “Our organization has a core value of ‘being a blessing and servant to our community.’ It was not our intention that this project would cause problems for neighbors or community members leading to additional time and expense to the City of Homer. This project being appealed at the time and expense of the city violates one of our core values. Furthermore, our leadership team and key stakeholders are concerned about the potential time delays and hassles associated with this appeal process.”

In an email, Licht said Set Free Alaska has not yet settled on a new location, but is close to a decision.

Reach Megan Pacer at