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City Council returns to old permitting process for building housing

Photo from KBBI Database
City council passed a new ordinance requiring conditional use permits for building additional housing units in Homer.

Homer City Council passed a new ordinance Monday night requiring conditional use permits to build additional housing on lots in the city.

The new ordinance rolls back one that passed last October allowing more housing units to be built in the city without needing a conditional use permit.

Aconditional use permit is a development permit where the applicant must go through a public hearing with the city’s planning commission where community members can attend and learn about the proposed development. Afterwards, five commissioners must approve the application. This process can take months before any decision is made.

Since October, up to four housing units could be built without additional permits in the Rural Residential, Urban Residential, Residential Office, Central Business and Gateway Business districts. Commercial districts one and two allowed more than one building with permitted principal use on a lot.

Now, people need to apply for a conditional use permit in all districts in Homer if they want to have more than one building with permitted principal use on a lot.

Council Member Rachel Lord and Mayor Ken Castner sponsored the ordinance. Castner supported the last ordinance and Lord voted to pass it last year.

Lord based this new ordinance on community feedback she received from the last ordinance. She said that while the conditional use permitting process is long, it also gives the community a chance to give their input on new buildings.

“It's also something that provides the community with an opportunity, the neighbors an opportunity to participate in that conversation,” she said, “when you're looking at up to four buildings [with] principal uses on a lot, can be substantial. And I think the concerns I've heard are reasonable.”

Council Member Jason Davis opposed the ordinance, saying it is unfair to people who have already gotten permits. He also voiced his concerns about the city’s need for housing.

“I feel a lot of sympathy for people in neighborhoods who don't want things to change. But I feel more empathy for the people who are desperate to find a place to live in, there's just nothing out there,” Davis said.

Davis proposed an amendment to keep the permits as is for all districts except the Gateway Business and Rural Residential districts, and to add a requirement that no more than one new dwelling at a time could be used for short term rentals.

Mayor Castner also opposed Davis’ amendment and the council rejected the amendment in a 3 to 3 vote.

“I'm not going to endorse something that you're kind of cobbling together here at this meeting,” Castner said to Davis, “so if you pass it, I'm going to veto it and return it back to square one.”

The council ultimately passed the ordinance in a 4 to three vote. Council members Shelly Erickson, Caroline Venuti and Lord voted yes. As a co-sponsor of the ordinance, Mayor Castner also voted yes. Storm Hansen, Donna Aderhold, and Davis voted no on the ordinance.