Public testimony favors keeping HERC

It was a full house at the Homer City Council’s meeting on Monday as area residents lined up to make their concerns known. Most comments focused on two topics: the future of the gym that is part of the HERC, Homer Education and Recreation Complex, and the city’s acceptance of a”whimsical” seven-foot upright loon holding a windsock. It was created by Alaska artist Rachelle Dowdy for installation at Bishop’s Beach.
Public testimony supporting continued use of the gym was sparked by City Manager Walt Wrede’s update to the council concerning Resolution 13-096, passed by the council a year ago. The resolution requested the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly lift a deed restriction prohibiting the sale of the property on which the HERC is located.
The property and building were purchased by the city from the borough for $1 in 1998 with the deed clearly stating “that the site shall be owned in perpetuity by the city of Homer or its successor and be managed for the use and benefit of the general public.” In Resolution 13-096, the city council said it was in the “best interests of the community to demolish the buildings and use the site for the proposed new public safety building,” and requested the no-sale restriction be lifted “in the event that it is determined the site is not suitable for the public safety building.”
Following passage of Resolution 13-096 in September 2013, Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson transmitted the resolution to Johni Blankenship.

the borough clerk. Blankenship forwarded the resolution to the assembly and borough mayor; however Bill Smith, who represents Homer on the borough assembly, recently told the Homer News he did not recall receiving it.
Wrede’s report to the council indicated Smith, now aware of the resolution, would sponsor an ordinance to lift the deed restriction. Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s staff also has said they would prepare a similar ordinance.  
“I ask of you now to please rescind the resolution that is presently with the borough to amend the deed restrictions on the HERC property to make it available for sale if the city so chooses,” Kathy Hill, who plays pickleball at the gym, told the city council on Monday. “Please stop this request now in its tracks. … The odds are that only a national corporation would have the money to buy the property and to destroy the existing buildings. Would you really like to see a 7-Eleven, a fast-food place, a big parking lot with blazing lights sitting on that corner? That could really happen.”
Holly VanPelt also came to the defense of the gym, asking the council to take “a good hard look at seeing if it can be renovated to meet the needs of the community in the recreational sense.”
A self-desribed “avid sports enthusiast of the racket type,” John Cowan told the council he was “pretty proud of the availability of such a place as the HERC building. … To replace it would be almost impossible.”
Kate Crowley, head organizer of ReCreate Rec, a group addressing the southern peninsula’s recreational, wellness and extracurricular needs, said she planned to circulate a petition “to gauge people’s response” to a new public safety building and the future use of the HERC site.
“I thought it could be something constructive I could do and report back to you,” Crowley told the council.
Deb Lowney, on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, said she was struggling to find “peace of mind” regarding the potential cost of a new public safety building and the HERC site as its possible location.
“We have a facility there that is presently meeting the needs of a large user group,” Lowney said of the gym. “To take this away with no replacement in sight is a disservice to this community.”
During the council’s discussion of the manager’s report, council member David Lewis said, “I wouldn’t be in favor of any selling of land. … As I remember, I think I was the only one that voted no on that. I’m just following (former Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday’s) rule: If you have a good piece of land, you want to keep it.”
Council member Barbara Howard, who sponsored Resolution 13-096, said the resolution’s purpose was not to sell it, but to increase the city’s options.  
“Having it where we can sell it scares a lot of people,” said Lewis.
The loon sculpture added some humor to the meeting. Speaking in support of the sculpture, Homer Realtor Angie Newby said, laughing, “No one could ever doubt there’s something loony in Homer. That would be so appropriate.”
A gift from Bunnell Street Arts Center, the sculpture was addressed by the council in June, but postponed until concerns about maintenance costs could be resolved.
“I am here to ask you to support receiving the loon sculpture as a gift along with $1,000 toward its maintenance,” said Asia Freeman, Bunnell’s executive director and artistic director.
Michele Miller, vice chair of the city’s Public Arts Committee, said the committee had unanimously approved the sculpture not just once, but twice.
Sharon Whytal said from her perspective as a nurse, having the statute at Bishop’s Beach was a positive move.
“I’m always looking at things that improve the quality of life and healthy lifestyles in our community,” said Whytal. “Having art at Bishops Beach would really bring another element of respect to an area that sometimes is filled with signs about what we shouldn’t do. It would be nice to have some beauty there.”
Council member Beau Burgess said he envisioned members of the public attempting to add clothing to the upright, XtraTuf-wearing loon.
“I’m cool with it as long as I get to be the first person to dress it up,” he said, laughing.
Resolution 14-075, accepting the statute, was unanimously approved.
Other public comments at Monday’s city council meeting focused on Resolution 14-093, the city’s Capital Improvement Plan and Capital Project Legislative Priorities, which will come before the council for a final vote on Oct. 13.
The council introduced Ordinance 14-47, appropriating $105,000 for design, engineering and permitting of a large vessel haul-out and repair facility, with a public hearing and second reading scheduled for on Oct. 13. Also introduced was Ordinance 14-19, rezoning portions of Rural Residential, Urban Residential and Residential Office zoning districts to East End Mixed Use. Council members Lewis, Howard, Francie Roberts, Gus Van Dyke and Bryan Zak voted yes and Beau Burgess voting no. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13.
“I want to thank everybody who did come out to express opinions,” said Van Dyke in closing comments. “It shows me there’s still a considerable amount of passion in the city with regard to certain things.”