Public hearing on Spit rezoning set for Monday

The Homer City Council at its 6 p.m. Monday meeting holds a public hearing and could act on proposed changes to zoning regulations and maps for the Homer Spit. Citizens can speak on two ordinances, 13-11(s) and 13-12, during the public hearing portion of the agenda.

The ordinance adds these activities as permitted uses in the Marine Commercial District, generally the area around the harbor:

• Accessory lodging, that is, apartments or rental rooms as part of building use such as fishing charter offices;

• Charter and tour offices; and

• Restaurants, parks, campgrounds, seafood processing and boat launching.

Activities allowed as conditional uses, that is, a use that would require approval by the Homer Advisory and Planning Commission, include drinking establishments, lodging that is not an accessory use and a change in setback requirements. The zoning code changes also set site development standards for some of these activities.

The zoning map changes some zoning districts from Marine Industrial to Conservation, such as the Louie’s Lagoon and Green Timbers areas, and from Marine Industrial to Open Space-Recreational. It also resolves split zoning for some land from Marine Industrial to Marine Commercial.

The change allowing accessory lodging as a permitted use makes legal a practice already common: renting out apartments or rooms attached to charter offices and gift shops. The Cannery Row Boardwalk, for example, has buildings where business owners or workers live upstairs, or where rooms are rented for the night.

“The problem we had with lodging is that it wasn’t classified,” said City Planner Rick Abboud. “If it stays accessory, I can permit it through my office.”

The accessory lodging would be permitted under the zoning change as long as the rooms met approval by the fire marshal, he said. Rooms for rent by the night would have a higher safety standard to meet than rooms used by owners or long-term residents.

One use already allowed as a conditional use in the Marine Commercial district that a draft ordinance struck out was a heliport. At the last council meeting when the ordinance came up on first reading, helicopter pilot Eric Lee protested this deletion. Lee said he wanted to start a helicopter tour operation on the Spit. In response, council member Beau Burgess added the heliport use back in as a conditional use.

Abboud said when the draft went before the planning commission, it looked at the goals of the Homer Comprehensive Plan.

“We said there’s a nearby airport where those kind of activities go by,” he said. 

There were concerns cited like safety, with helicopters kicking up gravel on the Spit, and an issue with noise.

“You start throwing off some decibels with some helicopters,” Abboud said. “Based on those thoughts, they (the planning commission) decided the airport was close enough.”

In a letter to some people who had challenged Burgess’ amendment that he copied to the Homer News, Burgess said that he personally did not like the idea of heliports on the Spit.

“But I believe very strongly that the city should not outright ban an activity for any reason unless there are clear reasons and a strong public mandate (which there may be in this case),” he wrote.

Burgess said he proposed a compromise that made operating a heliport on the Spit a conditional use. He said that is a new restriction on that kind of activity. The original ordinance had already said it was a conditional use permitted activity, so by undoing the deletion in his amendment, Burgess’ change would go back to the original language.

Abboud said that other than the heliport issue, there hasn’t been much controversy over the proposed rezoning. Public meetings with Spit business owners were well attended, he said, with support for the changes.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.