By Naomi Klouda
The Homer City Council heard often emotional testimony Monday night urging it to see the benefits of the old Homer Middle School gym, now in use by the community recreation program but soon to be demolished if a plan pushes forth.
Coupled with that was a group of advocates for a bike trail along Kachemak Drive. Spokesperson for the group Beth Cunningham pled with the council to not scrap support for the project in a measure they were to vote on. As it turned out, in a vote of four no, to one yes, the council agreed to support the trail though not to grant more funding above the $20,000 already allocated so far for design and engineering studies.
In the end, though, Councilmember Francie Roberts called for a reconsideration vote, to be taken up at the next meeting Oct. 14.
Public testimony on the Homer Educational Recreation Center gym came in response to Resolution 13-095, which allows Pickleball players and other groups to use the gym for now. Another resolution, 13-096, asks the Kenai Peninsula Borough to alter its building agreement with the City of Homer so that the city can sell the $4.8 million property, if that becomes an option in the near future.
The council has placed a new public safety building as a priority for seeking legislative capital improvement support. Estimated to cost about $15 million, the state would likely kick in funds along with the Department of Corrections, City Manager Walt Wrede told the council. The DOC supports gaining a new jail for Homer, and Federal Emergency management Administration funds to the Homer Fire Department, also likely would share in the new public safety building costs.
Kathy Hill told the council she feels hope the gym can be spared its proposed demolition fate – no matter what plans come of the new public safety building.
“I come before you with a slight glimmer of hope from the last council meeting. This gym is gem,” Hill said. “It is a beautiful space that has withstood the test of time. In my opinion it should be saved. We all know Indoor recreational space is at a premium in our community.”
Long winter means activities shift indoors. “Why throw it away when it is still useful? It makes no sense to me to tear this down and go in search of huge amounts of dollars in the near future to build a new one,” Hill said.
Others echoed that sentiment, even going so far as to propose the new public safety building incorporate the old gym for both officers’ and the public use.
Scott Adams said he wants to see the proposal put to voters, like it did for the proposed city hall-town center several years ago. He also protested the high costs of city government in Homer.
“My mother lives in prime Cape Cod, Mass., where the population is more and yet they have less police and less fire and less government than we do. I want to see the city council step back and review this,” Adams said.
The council approved Ordinance 13-38(S) to appropriate $300,000 from a combination of funds to begin preliminary engineering and design work on a new public safety building. The money comes from fire and police depreciation savings accounts and from the general fund depreciation account.
Council candidates Justin Arnold and Corbin Arno also urged the council to put the breaks on. “I don’t understand why we are moving forward so quickly,” Arnold said.
Mayor Beth Wythe said nothing about the process is going to be quick. This is the beginning of a five year process to putting funding and plans together, she said.
“This is on our prioritized needs list – it is not a wish list,” she said. Public safety is a primary funding obligation of city government.
“This is a primary responsibility you have to fulfill in order to be a first class city,” she said.
Councilman David Lewis reminded listeners that as part of the plan, another site designated as second choice on Main Street is also still under consideration. That is where Homer Cleaners is now located, a building that is closed and up for sale.
An amendment on the $300,000 allocation measure proposed by Bryan Zak was voted down. It would have renamed the CIP list item as a new public safety building-rec center, but the council felt that would be ill advised since the list is already sent to the Alaska Legislature and governor’s office.
Councilman Beau Burgess suggested putting together a group to spearhead a solid plan so that next year, a community rec center could go on the CIP list.
Kachemak Drive Pathway
A question surfaced Monday night over ownership of the pathway lining Kachemak Bay Drive. Trail advocate Beth Cunningham found a mishmash of ownership between state, city and private sources on a portion of the trail. City Manager Wrede also was unclear on ownership, but said he will do a title search.
At issue is whether the city council was to rescind its support for the proposed trail, which would make a hazardous throughfare safer for bikers and pedestrians.
But since the road is owned by the state, Mayor Wythe said it’s not appropriate to spend city money on building a trail.
Cunningham said they are not asking for more money. They just want the city’s support.
Councilmember Barbara Howard suggested that since the council allocated $20,000 for the design and engineering study, isn’t that support enough?
Also at issue was how much got spent of that allocation. Cunningham was under the impression all of it was used by the survey and engineering, while Wrede thought just over half was spent. After a check, Wrede found that $17,500 of had been spent.
The council voted as the trail advocates wanted. They agreed to support the trail.
• Passed: Resolution 13-093 – a resolution asking the city council to amend the procurement policy to increase spending limits for purchase orders. Currently, the limit is $500. The request is to up that to $4,000. These are purchases for supplies, materials, equipment and services.
• Failed: Ordinance 13-37 proposed to change zoning laws related to businesses currently under conditional use. The measure would have changed the definition of “discontinued” in city code. As it is, voting it down means that if a business-property owner dies, and that business is discontinued for 12 months, it would thereafter not be allowed to continue. This keeps the code at status quo.
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