Timing is everything

Last week’s Monday Homer City Council meeting was an interesting one, with more discussion about the HERC building and the question of whether to lift or not lift deed restrictions as well as a “heads up” from the City Manager’s report that the Public Safety Building Review Commitee is honing in on the HERC site as the number one choice for the new $25 million public safety Building.
Phew. It’s all so layered and inter-related, it makes my head spin.
But council member Beau Burgess’s comments later in the meeting stuck with me. He brought up the public testimony which we heard earlier in the meeting, saying that the pickleball is “fun” and the HERC building is a “treasure” type of testimony isn’t very helpful. He suggested that we forego this type of emotional testimony and wait to see what the PARC (Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture) needs assessment says when it comes out in April 2015.
Hmmm, sounds reasonable. The hard part, though, is that the Public Safety Building Review Commitee isn’t waiting until then. They are moving forward. They will be coming to the council with their site selection and will start to draw up plans for the HERC site before April.
Or they will continue the efforts to lift the deed restrictions and sell the property to fund the new public safety building.
And then, and this is the hard part for me, the community will lose access to this truly great piece of Homer property.
So, forgive us Beau, we don’t have the hard data yet. But, we do know what this property has been and could continue to be a potential home for all things recreational and educational. A community cornerstone. So, we will talk about it. We should talk about it. If it goes away, how will we replace it?
Why does the new public safety building have to go on the HERC property? I have been involved in this process and I am still puzzled by the site selection process. Besides having water and sewer, and some basic infrastructure, the HERC site may even be harder to build a new safety building on simply because the old building will have to be demolished in a safe asbestos-containing way.
Many informed and active participants have made solid cases for the new public safety building to be built on the site where the fire hall and police station sit today. They bring up the following points:
• The borough maintenance shed, which sits on the lot next to the fire hall and police station, seems like a natural direction to expand. There is a Homer Area Road Plan (2005) which plans to extend Lake Street up next to the borough maintenance shed to Homer High School parking lot thereby connecting Pioneer Avenue to the high school more directly.
If you crunch the numbers, the current footprint of the fire hall and police station plus the land on which the borough maintenance shed sits and the land made available by this road project would be 3.6 acres. This would be plenty of room for a two-story complex, according to the Public Safety Building Review Committee’s own research.
• Response times to East End Road as well as the Homer Spit seem considerably better from the current location of the fire hall and the police station.
• The 1/4 mile buffer between the Homer Jail and the high school is considerably better than the few hundred yards from the proposed HERC site for the jail to the Homer Middle School.
Could we get some answers as to why the current site has not been explored in more depth? When brought up at the Public Safety Building Review Commitee, these points were met with apathy. Why?
What can you do?
Go to the city website. Get the email address of your favorite council member and send them an email. Better yet, call and talk to them in person. Ask them to consider the current location of the fire hall and the police station as a site for the new public safety building. Ask them how we will get back what we would be losing if the HERC site became the new public safety building.
I don’t know about you, but I really like the HERC property. I like that it usually has a handful of people on it, no matter what time of day it is. I like how the skatepark and the Boys and Girls Club (when it was operating) and the gym and the basketball courts are all front and center. Seeing this daily feels right. Our kids, our place for meeting and playing and learning is important to me.
When descending down into Homer on the last stretch of the Sterling Highway with the stunning views of Kachemak Bay as a backdrop, the HERC property feels like an important cornerstone. This community property sits there as a testimony that the people who live here, love it … and here they are.
Kate Crowley has been a Homer resident for 17 years. She is the organizer of ReCreate Rec, a citizen action group that meets regularly about improving recreational opportunities and spaces on the southern Kenai Peninsula.