At Monday night’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission meeting, The commission rejected a petition to block public access to an easement bordering properties off Skyline Drive near Homer. KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson has the story with reporting by Elizabeth Earl in Soldotna.
Correction: A previous version of the story identified the neighborhood as Diamond Ridge. It is better definied as being off Skyline Drive.
Driving by the long lines of homes on Skyline Drive you’d hardly know there are trails weaving between some of them. For decades, homesteaders and, more recently, locals have hiked along winding paths up and down the ridge, crossing patches of private property as they went.
But as Homer grows, those unofficial hiking trails are disappearing behind “No Trespassing” signs. And the concern about the loss of one more has developed into a point of contention at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission, with property owners and hikers clashing over a small trail near Dorothy Drive.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Willy Dunne says he started seeing no trespassing signs on it about a year and a half ago. Dorothy Drive is not in the district he represents. Dunne is interested in the issue, he says, because he has been hiking the trail for years.
"After the no trespassing signs went up, we started using a due north-south section line. It wasn’t much of a trail, but it got used and so a trail developed on it and it’s also connected to a pedestrian easement. It was the only legal access. And also, unfortunately, it went between a couple of houses," said Dunne,
About a year ago property owners on Dorothy Drive applied to make private the last 2,000 feet of Dorothy Drive and Lewis Place. The neighbors complained that too many people come by to take pictures of musician Zac Brown’s new home, and wanted to install a gate to keep them out. The landowners also petitioned to vacate the easements at that time, but nothing came of it.
A year later, in July, they applied again, and this time the Planning Commission did take action. They said no.
Trail users submitted comments against the vacation of the easement, saying it has historic value and is the only legal access to the area. The petitioners say they’re concerned about vandalism and crime along the trail as it goes between the houses on private property. Opponents argued that there’s no evidence that crime has gone up due to the trail being there, and that there’s still access on the road for people who will come and gawk at Brown’s house.
The Planning Commission ended up voting 5-4 against, leaving the section line easement open for the time being.
Borough platting manager Scott Huff said the petitioners can still appeal to the state Department of Natural Resources, but for the borough, this decision is final. There is no appeal process at the borough level.
Attorney Blaine Gilman, who is representing Zac Browne’s LLC Spotty Merle, said he wouldn’t comment on whether the property owners are going to take other action.
Dunne says that for him and the other hikers, it’s about the continual loss of public access as more and more of the property around Homer is sold and developed.
"It seems to be just an increasing issue, as more properties get developed. There’s a lot of old homestead trails out there, trails that people are used to walking, that may or may not cross private property. As they get purchased and change hands and homes get built, it gets harder and harder to find nice, remote places to walk," said Dunne.