Story last updated at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2002

Proposed rink skates circles with city
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

Never mind that it's June, for the second time this month, hockey was the subject of much conversation during a meeting of the Homer Advisory Planning Commission.

The youth sports lobby came out in force on June 19 during a planning commission session, in a show of support for a proposed covered ice rink and multi-sport field house off Lake Street. The sports and recreation enthusiasts sounded off in an effort to help the Homer Hockey Association win a variance to the city's 35-foot height restriction rule.

The panel granted the variance but later filed a motion to reconsider the Homer Hockey Association's conditional-use permit at its July 3 session. The conditional-use permit is the final major regulatory hurdle standing in the way of city approval for a rink at the site.

"The only part that I might be somewhat puzzled by is that we left the meeting thinking that the (conditional-use) permit had been granted," Bucher said. "Then the following day we learned that it was being reconsidered. But, we figured we would always have to meet those kind of concerns and we went into the meeting knowing that."

It is not unusual for the commission to move cautiously on a project with such a prominent location and size.

Ron Alderfer, the hockey association's project manager, said he wasn't too surprised to hear that the commissioners wanted to revisit a few aspects of the building proposal.

Alderfer said the panel has been particularly concerned about issues of aesthetics and the impact of such a big structure on the flow of traffic in the business district. He added that he expected the panel would want to discuss plans for drainage, signage, lighting, parking and fire lanes.

The city regulations set the maximum-allowable height for a new building at 35 feet, which the roof over the proposed hockey rink would exceed. One reason for that restriction is to keep the city's buildings within the scope of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department's equipment.

After reviewing the association's application for a variance, Homer Fire Chief Bob Painter issued a memo recommending the panel grant the variance as long as the rink is outfitted with a building-wide sprinkler system.

Bucher said he was overwhelmed by the support the rink got from members of the Homer youth sports community. Testimony on behalf of the hockey association came from the baseball, football, adult softball and tennis communities, as well as members of the business community. Bucher guessed that 20 different individuals weighed in on the issue.

The hockey association hopes the new facility will be a community recreation field house, hosting a variety of activities during the seven months of the year the rink does not have ice.

The June 19 meeting was necessary after the planning commission, during a June 5 session, decided to have the city's attorney look over whether the Homer Hockey Association fit the legal profile for a variance.

"They wanted to examine closely the proper terminology for a variance and to determine if the hockey association was eligible."

In the June 5 meeting, commissioners had questions about Homer Hockey Association's nonprofit status and what effect that would have on their application.

Wes Bucher, an association spokesman, said that he subsequently supplied the city with the paperwork showing the group's nonprofit status.