Council Extends Length of 'Non-Conforming Use' Permits

     Businesses that operate with a “non-conforming use” permit in Homer and close up shop will now have more time to open their doors again without losing that status. The Homer City Council has approved a measure that will allow you 24 months to get your affairs in order instead of 12.

     Businesses that have non-conforming use permits have that distinction because they’re operating in places they wouldn’t normally be. The Bay View Inn on Baycrest Hill has been used as an example of this issue quite lot lately. It previously operated in an area zoned “rural residential,” but as the story goes it lost its special status because it was closed for more than the 12 months. That’s a no-no when it comes to non-conforming use. If this happens, it becomes a building formally known as a business.

     The Bay View Inn isn’t the only business in town that is or could be affected by this rule. It’s just been the most recent and beloved example. The city council has been trying to figure out what to do about the situation since the start of the fall without making an exception just for the inn. That’s another big no-no and something the city has gotten into trouble with in the past. 

    The council discussed changes to city code first and bounced it over to the planning commission for a recommendation. That group met last week for its regular meeting. Commissioner Jennifer Sonneborn said an increase in time makes sense because those 12 months from the city just aren’t enough.

     “I don’t know if this is just because things take longer now than when this law was written. But I would like to see us extend the amount of time for a non-conforming use to be continued,” she said. 

     The commission did recommend the time extension and that’s what the city council approved Monday. Though some commissioners like Sonneborn weren’t sure if the change would actually help the Bay View Inn in the end because of the timeline. Sonneborn said she’d like more discussion. 

     “I would also like to see us solve the problem of the Bay View Inn specifically. I would like to encourage us to look at rezoning that area as mixed use.”

     Changing any zoning requires meetings with the surrounding neighbors. And in a memo to the commissioners, City Planner Rick Abboud wrote there are commercial operations in the vicinity that could also be affected. Zoning isn’t the only piece the group could dive into. Commissioner Robert Highland said she wants to talk about non-conforming use permits in general. 

     “This is not a life and death matter right now. And… it brings up a lot of things that have not been brought up for a long time. Non-conforming was way back when… it’s certainly, after that length of time, not a bad idea for us to do a larger discussion about it,” she said. 

     The commission didn’t set a timeline for those issues, but they could be brought up again during the group’s next regular meeting in January.