Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:18 PM on Wednesday, February 2, 2011

City rescinds Refuge Room decision

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

After discovering it had not given proper public notice of a Board of Adjustment hearing on an appeal by the Refuge Room, the board rescinded a decision made Jan. 7 that the men's housing facility run by Refuge Chapel was a hostel and needed a conditional use permit. The Homer City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment, will hold a new hearing on the same appeal sometime in March.

Citizen activist Frank Griswold had notified the city that he had requested a notice of appearance in October, but was not given notice of the Dec. 8, 2010, hearing. Griswold lives in the neighborhood south of the Refuge Room on Pioneer Avenue.

In its order rescinding its decision, the board said the notice of appeal was properly made, but not the notice of time and place. City code requires not less than 15 days notice of time and place of the appeal to parties who have entered an appearance and neighboring property owners.

The Refuge Room issue has gone before the Homer Advisory Planning Commission and the Board of Adjustment several times since 2007. The latest appeal is in response to an enforcement order by City Planner Rick Abboud that the Refuge Room needed a conditional use permit. The Refuge Room appealed that order. That appeal is what the board will consider at a new hearing.

In 2007 the planning commission granted a CUP to the Refuge Room to operate a dormitory-style housing facility for men, but the board found a planning department staff member assigned to the case had a disqualifying conflict of interest and remanded to the commission its decision. However, in 2009 City Planner Rick Abboud determined the Refuge Room was a rooming house and did not need a CUP. The planning commission voted 2-3 and could not affirm or reverse Abboud's decision. The Refuge Room has since withdrawn its 2007 CUP application.

That action was appealed to the Board of Adjustment. In the second appeal in January 2010, it determined the commission failed to support Abboud's decision. It remanded to the commission that non-decision and the question if the Refuge Room is a homeless shelter. The commission decided it was a homeless shelter.

"Calling a men's homeless shelter a rooming house, a hostel or some other contrived use in order to avoid having to enforce the city zoning laws is dishonest, expensive, and undermines the integrity of the city and its zoning scheme," Griswold said in response to the latest action.

Refuge Chapel Pastor Darren Williams did not return a request for comment.

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