Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

City revamps ordinance on beach use
by Joel Gay
Staff Writer

The city's beach protection ordinance is back, and now includes a map that delineates what is allowed and where, but it may take additional legal challenges to determine exactly how far the city can manage its beaches.

The Homer City Council first approved the ordinance last year, but it went back to the drawing boards after District Court Judge Francis Neville found it unclear.

The revised ordinance has the same intent, council members said Tuesday, such as protecting the storm berms while allowing continued motorized access on sand and gravel beaches. The council wrangled over the definitions of "storm berm" and "tamper," and offered half a dozen amendments before finally approving the changes.

The law prohibits anyone from taking driftwood "from a storm berm," no longer implying that the wood must be embedded in the gravel. Councilman Kurt Marquardt wondered if that would douse area residents' ability to build fires on the beach.

"The original intent of this was to protect the grass" and logs that hold storm berms together, he said. Now wood is only available if it is below the storm berm, which is defined as "a berm formed by the upper reach of storm wave surges or the highest tides. Storm berms generally include an accumulation of seaweed, driftwood and other water-borne materials. A beach may have more than one storm berm."

A map should help drivers see whether they can drive on a particular beach legally, although Councilman Ray Kranich complained that it wasn't useful in its current form. City Manager Ron Drathman said new maps could easily be made that will be more user-friendly.

The council also stiffened the fines for repeat violators. The first offense remains $25, but the second will set the driver back $250 and the third and subsequent fines are $499 apiece.

While the council has said it wants to tread lightly on the rights of beach drivers, Councilman Mike Yourkowski showed a video of a truck driving recklessly on Bishop's Beach. The Beach Policy Task Force will reconvene next month for the annual update of the ordinance, and he asked that residents speak out on use and misuse of the beaches by drivers with an eye toward amending the ordinance ensure it works well. The council introduced several measures Tuesday night that will come up for public hearing and a final vote June 10, including one that would extend the Small Boat Harbor no-wake policy outside the harbor in a quarter-mile radius. Port Director Bill Abbott said the regulations are needed to reduce wave action on boats tied to the city docks.

The measure also expands the pollution ordinances governing the harbor and all city waterways by prohibiting the dumping of oil and other pollutants.

The council introduced a controversial ordinance that would require conditional use permits for buildings in the Central Business District that have a footprint greater than 8,000 square feet or that cover more than 30 percent of the lot.

Planning Commission chairman Bill Smith said the proposed ordinance has drawn fire from some quarters as being overly restrictive and anti-business, but said Homer would still have less restrictive ordinances than Kenai or Soldotna.

Marquardt called the measure "overdue," and City Manager Ron Drathman agreed. "This is not going to keep out a big box store," he said. "This is a land-use ordinance" that gives area residents a say in how large retail buildings fit downtown.

The council voiced unanimous support for the measure, and sent it on to public hearing June 10.

It was less supportive of a proposed Yourkowski ordinance that would require most public capital projects to set aside 1 percent of the construction cost for art projects.

Yourkowski and Marquardt called it good for Homer's economy by emphasizing the local arts scene. "We need to look to the future to keep this a special place," Yourkowski said, adding that public art will set Homer apart from many other tourism destinations and improve the quality of life.

Councilmen Rick Ladd and Ray Kranich countered that with the local, state and federal economies teetering, this is the wrong time to mandate art projects. They voted against introduction, but the measure passed 4-2 and go to public hearing June 10.

The council approved $75,000 for a new harbor work skiff/tow boat with fire-fighting capabilities, and gave the contract to McDonald's of Homer to continue feeding Homer Jail inmates for $21 a day. Burger King bid $22.

The council accepted a $20,300 state grant to beef up drunk-driving patrols this summer, and agreed to spend $30,000 on two new mobile heart defibrillators. It approved funding for a new police officer required as a result of annexation, and boosted funding for a public works

mechanic's position.