The Homer City Council is considering changing the definition of “discontinued” in the city’s property zoning code. The wording would affect properties like the Bay View Inn that were granted a conditional-use permit to continue operating as a business after the city annexed the area in the 1980s.
When the City of Homer annexed all that property, it zoned some of it “residential.” But any businesses that existed before that annexation were able to stay open under the city’s “nonconforming” clause. The only rule was that said business had to open its doors at least one day a year to stay in that category.
In the case of the Bay View Inn, its owner Dennis Novak died and ownership passed on to his sister. The problem was that she was out of state and the property was tied up in legal issues for more than a year. “Nonconforming” clause revoked. The council is considering extending the timeline to prevent that from happening again.
During Monday night’s city council meeting, Homer resident Charles Davis said this issue seems to come up every 15 years. He wants it fixed.
“It would be nice if the council could come up with a solution that would be generic. That would work for everybody, and when these situations happen… that there’s provisions in there. Then we don’t have to have a big community discussion,” he said.
The council started out by considering three years for a conditional-use property to get its ducks in a row rather than the current one year in city code. Council member David Lewis said that’s too much time.
“We all know why this is being brought up, because of the Bay View Inn. And Dennis was a great person, but that can’t be involved in this decision at all. This has to be looked at as to how it affects everything within the city,” he said.
He said there could be unforeseen problems that come along with this change and that could mean more time and money with attorneys. Council member Beau Burgess said he thinks one year is probably not enough, but also is concerned about changing it to three.
He said split the difference and make it two years. A “nonconforming” property would need to open its doors at least once every 24 months to keep its status.
“I can’t conceive of too many scenarios in which you would have to discontinue a use for three years and then really want to start it up again. I mean, that’s kind of why we have a planning and zoning code in the first place. We do believe it’s in the best interest of the community to have rough guidelines for how we use land and how things are happening,” he said.
Council Member Bryan Zak is the one who put the three year timeline into the proposal in the first place. He said he knew it might be too much for his fellow members. But he said he decided to stay with three years based on his discussions with local business owners.
“Their feedback to me… 36 months wasn’t long enough because of probate or a business owner selling a property and coming up with a new business plan, new projections and use,” he said.
The other council members disagreed and amended the proposal so that a business will have two years of “non-use” before it loses its conditional-use permit. This measure now goes to the City Planning Commission. The group is expected to discuss it during its November meeting. The measure will come back to the council for an up or down vote next month as well.