Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, December 12, 2002

Moratorium to be in effect 6 months

Council OKs limit on big stores

by Carey James
Staff Writer

With rumors of Fred Meyer coming to town (See related story, page 21), the council approved a six-month moratorium on construction of "very large" stores selling retail or wholesale goods.

Councilman Rick Ladd and Mayor Jack Cushing said the ordinance was created independent of any news of large businesses coming to town, and said they didn't want the potential newcomers to think the city is anti-business. Instead, the council said the city needs time to plan how to deal with possible large stores, which the council defined as bigger than 30,000 square feet, or larger than Eagle Quality Center or Ulmer's.

"What is the impact of a large store on the aesthetic qualities of our community?" Ladd asked. "There are a lot of questions that need to be asked, and I think they can be answered."

Cushing noted that the city of Homer leads the peninsula in the number of retail stores as well as gross sales per square foot of retail space. Others commented that after Eagle Quality Center opened, other smaller stores went out of business.

During a discussion of the ordinance before the council meeting, City Attorney Gordon Tans said the moratorium is appropriate and in line with how other cities handle efforts to put city regulations in place concerning city planning.

Issues such as landscaping, lighting, traffic and the impacts of such stores on the city water and sewer may be tackled during the next six months, and City Planner Zak Tucker said his department is eager to work on it.

"I think the task is something we can pursue, and it's something we have pursued," Tucker said.

The council recently passed a requirement that all buildings bigger than 8,000 square feet apply for a conditional-use permit, therefore allowing the city to discuss building plans with the businesses. The moratorium takes that effort a step further.

Tans told council members that they could legally extend the moratorium beyond six months, if necessary.

At least one city businessperson took issue with the city's actions. Kevin Hogan, owner of the Auction Block on the Homer Spit, said he understands the need to plan, but doesn't think obstructionism is planning.

"I suggest you stick a sign up right there by the Kasilof junction that says, 'Honk if you are returning after spending your money in Kenai or Soldotna,'" Hogan said. "We send a huge amount of revenue out of town. Every time I go into a store in Anchorage of Soldotna, I make a point to look, and I have yet to go into a store and not see a person from Homer," even in the middle of the night.

Councilman Ray Kranich said he hopes businesses don't see the move by the council as opposing new development.

"I'm hoping by passing this that we haven't sent a real negative message," said Kranich. "I'm not opposed to larger retail businesses coming in. We just want to have the opportunity to have our ducks in a row so that when they do come in, they are a positive part of our community in virtually all respects."

Councilwoman Rose Beck said the effort allows the city time to plan for the impact of such a store coming to town.

"I don't think anyone around this table is anti-economic endeavors," Beck said. "This (ordinance) insures that the community gets what it needs, to preserve the small-town feel while providing the big-town amenities. It's simply something we decided to do to ensure that happens."

In other news, the council:

* Approved the creation of a hiring committee composed of the council plus two members of the public, but opposed the creation of an entire public hiring committee as suggested by Ladd and Kranich.

* Approved sending a letter to the University of Alaska saying the council is interested in selling the city hall building if an adequate offer is submitted by the university. City Finance Director Dean Baugh said city hall has an estimated value of around $1 million.

* Approved renewing city leases with several Homer Spit renters.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer