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Homer Planning Commission to reconsider permit for hospital housing project

Left to right: Homer Planning Commissioners Mike Stark, Brad Conley, David Schneider, Charles Barnwell discuss a conditional use permit application with Bill Hand on June 19, 2024.
Jamie Diep
/
KBBI
Left to right: Homer Planning Commissioners Mike Stark, Brad Conley, David Schneider, Charles Barnwell discuss a conditional use permit application with Bill Hand on June 19, 2024.

Homer’s planning commission is going to reconsider a housing project for South Peninsula Hospital after narrowly approving it at their June 19 meeting.

The Homer Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit in a 4-3 vote for a project to build 25 houses for South Peninsula Hospital, but that decision was put in limbo two days later when a commissioner filed a notice of reconsideration.

A conditional use permit is needed for certain projects to ensure it follows city code and is compatible with nearby land. Applications are reviewed by the commission and are open for public comment.

When the commissioners initially approved the permit, several had concerns about the location of the site. The proposed project is right next to the Sterling Highway on a bluff overlooking Kachemak Bay. Commissioner and Vice Chair Charles Barnwell said he’s concerned about having that many units on the bluff.

“In all good conscience, I have a real hard time supporting this because, just, as a geologist, I can't do it. I mean, I don't think it's stable enough.”

Jan Keiser is a Homer resident who retired this year as the city’s Public Works Director and City Engineer. She submitted a written comment saying it’s common for chunks of soil to fall off of the bluff. She also said building in the area could speed up erosion and recommended various ways to mitigate the risk of building on the bluff.

City Planner Ryan Foster said many of these concerns would be addressed during the zoning permit phase of the project, which must be approved before any construction begins.

Other commissioners worried about traffic issues. Some of the proposed units are designed to house families.Commissioner Franco Venuti said that’s concerning because children would have to cross a state highway to access the nearest playground.

“I see a major safety problem here for any children living in this complex and I’m wondering what we can do to address that issue,” he said, “I don't know if we can get the state to put a crosswalk in, or a warning light, but something needs to happen there.”

Others brought up the potential impact on traffic. However, Foster said that there isn’t much the city can do, as the highway is maintained by the Alaska Department of Transportation. Commissioner Mike Stark added that the commission should focus on making sure the application complies with city code instead.

“Every potential landowner can't solve the problems of Homer traffic, because every additional development, that creates even more of a problem,” he said.

The project came out of the hospital’s need for additional housing. SPH Marketing and Public Relations Director Derotha Ferraro said in an interview the hospital currently rents 26 units around the town. These house a variety of employees, from traveling nurses to employees who need temporary housing as they find a place to live. However, she said employees tend not to live in those units for extended periods.

The hospital approved the contract with a developer earlier this year (January 2024). Ferraro said that would allow the hospital to rent the units for 10 years, and would free up competitive year-round leases.

“It's not an immediate fix, but it's really exciting that this many leases will be returned back into the hands of community members in need of housing,” she said.

Ferraro added securing a long term lease would be helpful in recruiting people to the hospital.

“If we know as we're recruiting somebody in this highly competitive market, that we can confidently say, ‘and you get a place to live for six months, while you and your spouse and your family are moving up to Alaska and getting settled,’” she said.

The project still needs to get a zoning permit before moving forward, but Ferraro said as of last month, they expect to see construction begin next year.

The permit will be up for reconsideration on July 17, where the commissioners will discuss if they want to change their decision.

Correction: This story was updated on July 16 to correct the next Planning Commission meeting to July 17 instead of July 24.

Jamie Diep is a reporter/host for KBBI from Portland, Oregon. They joined KBBI right after getting a degree in music and Anthropology from the University of Oregon. They’ve built a strong passion for public radio through their work with OPB in Portland and the Here I Stand Project in Taipei, Taiwan.Jamie covers everything related to Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, and they’re particularly interested in education and environmental reporting. You can reach them at jamie@kbbi.org to send story ideas.
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