Assembly ties on planning commission change

In its annual visit to Homer, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly stalled on a revision of the borough’s Planning Commission opposed by both the Homer City Council and the Homer Advisory Planning Commission. 

In a 4-4 vote, the assembly tied — and thus defeated — Ordinance 16-25, an ordinance that would reduce the size of the borough planning commission from a maximum of 13 to a maximum of 11.

District 5 assembly member Stan Welles of Sterling, who would have cast a deciding vote, was absent. In assembly comments at the end of the meeting, District 1 assembly member Gary Knopp of Kalifornsky Beach Road, who voted for the ordinance, asked for reconsideration.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre introduced Substitute Ordinance 16-25 in response to a technical violation of state law. Alaska statute requires the number of home-rule and first class cities reflects the proportion of borough population living in home-rule and first class cities. Currently, the five cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Seward, Homer and Seldovia have designated members on the planning commission. The other eight members are appointed from the East Peninsula, Southwest Borough, Anchor Point/Ninilchik, Kasilof/Clam Gulch, Kalifornsky Beach, Ridgeway, Sterling and Northwest Borough areas. That gives the commission 13 total members. 

The proposed ordinance would reduce the commission to 11 members. Four would be from the cities and seven from new areas. The requirement that each city would have a member would go away. With Seldovia being the smallest city, the presumption is that it would lose a seat. The Anchor Point/Ninilchik and Clam Gulch/Kasilof areas would be combined into one district. The change wouldn’t take effect until 2020, after the next census.

The reduced commission would save the borough about $30,000 a year — an amount District 7 assembly member Brent Johnson, Clam Gulch, said could help pay for a proposed $300,000 review of the borough comprehensive plan.

Johnson, who sponsored the original ordinance which Navarre’s substitute replaced, said not specifying a member come from a specific city would allow someone from a small town like Seldovia to serve. He supported the mayor’s substitute ordinance.

“Seldovia could come forward with an exceptional individual,” he said. “Shouldn’t that person have a chance on the planning commission?”

District 3 assembly member Wayne Ogle, Nikiski, said he agreed with Johnson.

“The plan has evolved nicely in a direction that is going to be complying with state law,” he said. “I think it’s well done.”

Homer’s two assembly members spoke against the ordinance. Assembly member Kelly Cooper said she heard opposition from planning commissioners on Ordinance 16-25. While the assembly deals with laws and regulations, the commissioners deal with more local issues like plats and subdivision agreements.

“They’re doing things that are in your home and neighborhood,” she said.

Cooper suggested the assembly try to get state law changed to allow the current format to continue. Navarre said the enactment date of 2020 allows for time to make that change if the assembly wants to go in that direction.

Homer’s other assembly member, Willy Dunne, who also represents Anchor Point, Seldovia and Kachemak Bay communities, spoke against the ordinance.

“I’m struggling with this,” he said. “I’ve heard from the people of Seldovia. I know it’s a tiny city. When you talk about proportional representation, they may or may not have a chance under the proposed ordinance. I think that small town perspective is important.”

Navarre acknowledged the opposition to his ordinance.

“Most of the pushback came from the city representatives,” he said. “They view themselves as the representatives of specific cities because that’s how they’re identified in the code.”

Navarre also noted the cities all have their own planning commissions and deal with zoning issues in their areas.

In the final vote, the assembly tied. Voting no were District 4 member Dale Bagley of Soldotna, District 6 member Brandii Holmdahl of Seward, Cooper and Dunne.

Voting yes were Johnson, Ogle, Knopp, and District 2 and Assembly President Blaine Gilman, Kenai.

During his general comments at the end of the meeting, Knopp asked for reconsideration of the ordinance at the assembly’s next meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11 at the assembly chambers in Soldotna.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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