Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:37 PM on Wednesday, August 29, 2012

City revising Spit lodging code

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

Walk down the Homer Spit in the evening after businesses have closed, and above charter offices, cafes and shops, downstairs might be dark but upstairs the lights are on and somebody's home. Some units might be rooms for rent, while at others, owners keep an eye on their shops the old fashioned way — by living near them.

Businesses like the little rentals, a good way to bring in some extra cash or make the 5 a.m. commute as easy as walking downstairs. There's just one little problem.

Technically, in the Spit Marine Commercial zoning district, what the city calls accessory lodgings aren't permitted. As the city did with signs that exceeded former regulations, the Homer Planning Department has proposed changed zoning rules to allow the rooms. City Planner Rick Abboud said having overnight lodging on the Spit on the boardwalks makes sense in terms of public safety and environmental planning.

Next Wednesday, the Planning Department holds the second of two public meetings to discuss regulations for accessory lodging units and get input from business and property owners. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5 in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.

In the Marine Commercial District, an area roughly surrounding the Homer Harbor between Freight Dock and Fish Dock Roads, hotels and motels are allowed with a conditional use permit. They're defined as lodging with six or more rooms and with restrooms. In other areas of the Spit, worker or caretaker lodging also is permitted. Accessory lodging isn't listed as a permitted use.

The proposed change came about with the adoption of the Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan, which recommends reviewing and updating Spit zoning codes.

"As we're going through that, we have our issues with accommodations that are less than a hotel," Abboud said. "We don't have a definition in code for them."

An earlier meeting in August got a good turnout, he said. Lots of people asked why the city was raising the issue after it hadn't been enforced for so long. One person asked why the city had to be concerned when that was something the state fire marshal inspected. Another person said the fire marshal had never inspected rentals, Abboud said.

Public safety of rental occupants is a big reason for setting rules, Abboud said. Regulations would differ for worker housing and for short-term housing. There's a difference between housing for someone staying a month and who would know how to get to safety in a fire and an overnight unit used by people unfamiliar with features like emergency stairs, Abboud noted.

One idea for accessory lodging would be to limit them to half the space of a building. On Spit boardwalks, single business buildings are grouped on boardwalks, with the building owner renting space on the boardwalk. Buildings often have a downstairs retail space and an upstairs lodging space. Some buildings have lodging on both floors.

"I think it can work in some fashion," Abboud said. "If we're talking about a room here and there, let's frame that up and make it a good safe place to stay."

Abboud said the city encourages Spit businesses to speak out about the issue.

"We want to get people on the ground floor of this," he said. "We're trying our best to seek their input ... We want to give you a seat at the table."

The Homer Advisory Planning Commission also is studying the issue and will eventually consider proposed zoning code changes. Abboud said he will seek input from other commissions like the Port and Harbor Commission. As with any zoning change, the Homer City Council will vote on the planning commission recommendations.

For more information, visit the city's website at www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/planning, or call the Planning Department at 235-3106.

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