Quiet Creek plat to be reconsidered

After the Homer Advisory Planning Commission on Jan. 2 approved recommending a preliminary plat for a 71-lot subdivision near Homer High School, one of the commissioners voting in favor, Larry Slone, this week asked for reconsideration. The motion will be on the agenda at the planning commission’s meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.

Slone said the main reason he asked for reconsideration was to allow more time for the planning commission to review information regarding the effect of the Quiet Creek subdivision on drainage in the area. Some information presented by citizens also did not make it into the Jan. 2 commission meeting packet.

“I think it’s clear there remain some residents that feel there is additional information out there that this development as proposed would not adequately protect the long-term viability of the natural drainage system’s capacity to act as a sponge and potentially compromise those properties downstream during storm events,” Slone said.

Most public testimony at the meeting focused on storm water and wetlands issues and highlighted a failure of Homer city code to require storm water drainage plans for subdivisions.

Homer developer Tony Neal has proposed a new version of his 2005 plat that would reduce the number of lots from 90 to 71 on a 37-acre parcel uphill and east of the high school. In an area zoned rural-residential, Quiet Creek would include lots from 9,700 square feet to 29,645 square feet in size. Most lots would be a quarter-acre or half-acre. The subdivision would connect to town through new roads built from East Hill Road to the east, East End Road to the south and Elderberry and Mountainview Drive to the west.

It also would include “rain gardens,” or small ponds to collect drainage to minimize downhill impacts, and set aside land for trails, green space buffers and parks in the subdivision.

In the Planning Department’s staff report, City Planner Rick Abboud recommended approval of the preliminary plat with conditions. Those conditions included increasing the size of one 9,700-square-foot lot to meet the 10,000-square-foot minimum for rural residential zoning and in the first phase of the project building Nelson Avenue and Ronda Street from East End Road to South Slope Drive. That connection would provide access to Quiet Creek Park from East Hill Road and East End Road. Currently, South Slope Drive is a dead-end off East Hill Road and Ronda Street is a dead-end off East End Road.

The planning staff also recommended that shared driveways meet fire-department access requirements, street names comply with Kenai Peninsula Borough regulations, fire hydrants be put in as part of the subdivision and a 15-foot utility easement be put in around the “bulb,” or cul-de-sac end, of a new street, Sophie Court.

Although Sophie Court is 671-feet long, 71 feet in excess of city code limiting cul-de-sacs to 600 feet, neither the planning staff nor the commission raised a formal objection.

Commissioner Don Stead did ask planning staff about Sophie Court being too long. Planning technician Julie Engebretsen agreed it was too long, but said that Neal could ask for an exception. 

The same issue came up in 2005, with Sophie Court being 700 feet long in that version. HAPC Chairman Lane Chesley noted then that under the city’s Design Criteria Manual, Neal could ask for a waiver, and that it should be in writing and provide justification for a waiver. 

Neal was asked by the Homer News if he intended to apply for a waiver for the new plat, but at press time he had not replied.

The planning commission accepted the findings of the staff report and in a 5-1 vote, with commissioner Roberta Highland voting no, recommended approval of the plat to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Platting Committee. Under the city of Homer’s limited zoning powers, the city can make recommendations on preliminary plats, with final approval coming from the borough.

“I think we all as commissioners have to remember we are not redesigning this project. We have input, all with great testimony from concerned folks,” said planning commissioner Tom Bos. “We have to make a decision on the plan before us.”

Highland introduced an amendment saying “this plat may not adequately protect the long-term interests both economically and physically of the downstream properties.” That amendment failed.

In voting against it, Stead said he worried the amendment would make the city liable for every property downstream of Quiet Creek.

Five people spoke at the meeting, with others submitting written comments. Most of them expressed concerns with the effect of roads, driveways and foundations on drainage patterns in the steep area.

Ginny Espenshade noted that in 2002 rain from a storm filled up the gully between the high school and the playing fields, rising just to the bottom of a pedestrian bridge.

“I urge you to think about the storm water plan,” she said. “This is a high-risk project.”

However, Abboud said while he understood concerns about drainage, subdivisions aren’t required to do storm water plans.

“If we want to as a city to regulate this stuff, we could, but we haven’t chosen to do that,” he said. “We just haven’t gone to that level of regulation.”

In comments at the end of the meeting, Mountainview Drive resident Ken Castner said he’s told the Homer City Council for years it needs to adopt storm water drainage regulations.

“If the code is no good, then change the code and give us some relief,” he said.

Abboud recommended that the planning commission stick to issues of code and make its recommendations based on what it saw as discrepancies with code.

However, in its 2005 recommendations on the denser subdivision, the planning commission did make recommendations about wetlands and drainage. It set a condition that Neal get a wetlands determination from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before getting plat approval. It also set a condition that post-development surface runoff and creek discharge patterns not differ from pre-development patterns.

After he got borough approval of his 2005 plat, Neal did get a wetlands determination. At last week’s meeting, he said he understood he would have to do that again for the new plat.

If the Quiet Creek preliminary plat passes on reconsideration, it next goes to the borough platting committee, a five-member subcommittee of the borough planning commission. It will look at the Homer Advisory Planning Commission recommendations in making its decision. It will follow Homer city code where applicable.

In response to a written question by Espenshade to Abboud asking if the latest version of the Quiet Creek plat was a new plat or a replat of the 2005 version, Abboud said it was a new plat. Maria Sweppy, platting specialist for the borough, agreed that it was a new plat because existing lot lines were being reconfigured. Sweppy said that the 2005 parent plat, including the 2005 planning commission recommendations, would be considered as part of the overall plat application. 

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.