The Homer Advisory Planning Commission decision to allow a preliminary plat for the Quiet Creek subdivision off East Hill Road will stand. The issue became so contentious after its approval last month that the Homer City Council stepped in during its meeting Monday night. Members discussed whether or not to disapprove the decision before it receives a final up-or-down vote from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission.
Some people who live near this area have become frustrated over the last few months. They’ve had problems with some of the proposed subdivision’s details and even the approval process itself.
“The right to be heard is especially important regarding written comments for commission’s public hearings on plats. Your policy creates an assumption that the majority of subdivisions will be approved. Therefore any public member who wants to oppose a subdivision has a burden of proof, and they must rebut that assumption in very limited opportunities to make our case,” Ginny Espinshade said.
Espinshade is in one of the neighboring lots and tried to include comments that dealt with serious drainage issues in that area. But she said some of those comments didn’t make it into the hands of the planning commissioners before they made their decision. So City Council Member David Lewis brought the issue to the council.
“And I feel that we are always being accused of not hearing what the people are saying and that we should give them the chance to be heard. I am neither for or against this development, but I feel that everyone should be heard and that evidence should be taken under consideration,” he said.
He said he wants to make sure the borough planning commission is considering all the information. And Lewis said he doesn’t mean for this to come off as a slap on the wrist for the city’s planning commission. But council member Bryan Zak didn’t see it that way. The resolution read “The Homer City Council disapproves the decision…” and Zak said the city should let the process play out.
“Knowing that there is the borough planning and platting is done at the borough level and that there’s another checks and balance for those that are worried about government listening to the people… I’m very reluctant for the city council to take any action to send this kind of message to the borough planning commission… when we haven’t seen the entire packet ourselves,” Zak said.
Lewis recommended changing the language to show the city neither approved nor disapproved of the planning commission’s actions. But Council Member Barbara Howard agreed with Zak and mentioned she isn’t sure what documents were even missing in the first place.
“I don’t know what important, critical… game-changing documents were submitted, or left out, that would cause all this to change,” Howard said.
Lewis said the missing items were from the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District and dealt specifically with drainage problems. Even so, Council Member Beau Burgess said developer Tony Neal followed the rules as currently written in city code.
“And our job is to make sure that if somebody plays by the rules, they get a fair shake. And if someone wants to change the rules later, and they come forth with good ideas to do that, we listen to them and we amend our code accordingly,” Burgess said.
The resolution failed with four votes against the measure and Lewis was the only one in favor. Council Member Francie Roberts had to recuse herself because she had participated in the planning commission meetings. She has a house near the area. Ginny Espinshade took one last opportunity to express her disappointment with the council.
“You filtered public comment. There was no public hearing at which these documents were included. All we were asking was for you, in whatever format you wanted… make sure that the borough looks at these documents and consider them part of the public hearing record. You failed to do that,” Espinshade said.
The proposed plans are currently at the borough level and there will be more opportunities for comment. The subdivision includes 71 lots that range in size from 10,000 square feet to almost 30,000 square feet. It’s located uphill from Homer High School.
The preliminary plat was approved by a 5-to-1 vote during the planning commission’s Jan. 2 meeting. Commissioner Roberta Highland was the lone “no” vote and mentioned issues with drainage for that area. The plat was reconsidered during the commission’s Jan. 15 meeting with no change.