by Naomi Klouda
A vintage inn operating on Baycrest Hill overlooks Kachemak Bay, a shimmering blue view that filled the eyes of honeymooners and thousands of people throughout the years.
Although the Bay View Inn was owned and operated the past 60 years or so, it will no longer be allowed to serve travelers at its location due to a zoning ruling by the Homer City Council. It was owned by Dennis Novak, a former city councilman, who died in a tragic accident in November of 2011. His sister, Diane Novak who lives in Denver, Colo., has tried to sell it through Bay Realty’s Debra Leisek. The ruling hampers her ability to sell the buildings and four acres of property.
The Homer City Council voted down an action Sept. 23 that would have given the property a chance to carry on. In a vote of 4-1, the measure shot down a chance of legal operation of its business. Councilman Bryan Zak cast the lone vote in favor of passage.
The property is zoned rural residential now, zoning applied in the 1980s, said Rick Abboud, city planner.
But Leisek, who researched the property, points out the motel was there before the City of Homer was formed and before Alaska was even a state. It appears to have been built in 1950. “I talked to one couple who told me they honeymooned here in 1950,” Leisek said. “It was here before they zoned it. They zoned it rural residential after there was an inn here.”
City zoning laws say if a nonconforming property isn’t continued in its present use, if it is not operated for a year after the death of the original owner, then it reverts to its rural residential status and loses grandfather rights.
Novak’s death after falling into his well occurred before Novak had completed a will. The property was tied up in probate for a year, leaving his sister’s hands tied of the ability to run it as an inn.
The city council looked at an ordinance sponsored by City Manager Walt Wrede and Mayor Beth Wythe that would have amended the definition of “discontinued” in city code to allow a business to be transferred to a successor operator. But the planning commission recommended against passage and Planner Rick Abboud found himself limited to a narrow part of the question, the definition of discontinued. Novak’s name wasn’t brought up in the discussion since zoning laws are not done for individuals but rather to encompass categories of land use.
“We don’t legislate on one property – we didn’t talk about it as such at the meeting. If we regulate property, it affects all scenarios that it affects,” Abboud said.
Nevertheless, the predicament severely limits the sale of the property and places a burden on the next owner to either demolish the historic inn or leave it to its ruin, Leisek said. “This is obstructionist government. It is degrading her chances to sell. Why did they do this?”
At the time of considering the ordinance, Leisek could have been called in to testify. But she was not consulted about the ramifications. She was initially encouraged by the ordinance, seeing it as working within the system for a remedy.
The property is listed now for $534,000. Leisek advertises: “Come see this completely unique property! Over four acres on the Homer bluff with the stunning forever ocean view few can ever call their own! Make this beautiful location your home and live the Homer adventure you have been dreaming of.”
The ad makes no mention of the inn, since that isn’t a legal use of the property now. Leisek cites this case as yet another example of how regulations shoot down private enterprise in Homer city limits. She gives examples of exceptions all over town that make a contradiction of zoning laws.
The property has historical significance in Homer. It was part of a homestead staked by Charles Abbott after World War II. (Abbott originated the Salty Dawg.) He later subdivided it and a man named Glenn Sewell built the inn and ran a restaurant there called the Porpoise Room, which he later rebuilt on the Homer Spit after a fire. Findley Abbott, Charles’ nephew, recalls his high school job sweeping and moping for Sewell for $1.50 an hour, which was high wages at the time.
“Uncle Charlie owned the land and at first we had four Quonset huts on it, but when it was sold they bulldozed over the quonset huts,” he recalled.
“The Porpoise Room and the hotel was built all at once, the same strip of buildings that are still there,” Findley said.
Each unit, linked together in a line, reflects an old fashioned period in motels. Immaculately kept, kitchen units still hold the old appliances and formica tables with vinyl chairs of a 1950s era. A separate white building stands surrounded in grass, referred to as the honeymoon cottage. Laundry facilities and a trailer is on the property as well.
Leisek has had four different parties interested in buying it. “Two of them went to the planning department,” she said, then grew discouraged about buying it. “They (the city administration) don’t have any concept. Why doesn’t the city do what they do everywhere else, give a variance, charge a tax and the problem is solved.”
Abboud said there may still be action that could be taken to let the inn continue under new owners. But it could take a long time and may be costly, he said.
Wrede said the Novak property was the situation that started this whole conversation, but the proposed change would have affected anyone in similar circumstances.
Wrede wrote in an email in response to questions from the Homer Tribune: “The Bayview Inn was a nonconforming use. (A motel in a rural residential district). The code says that nonconforming uses can continue under certain conditions, but if the use is discontinued for a year or more, the nonconforming use must stop and all future uses must comply with the zoning code. It has been well over a year since the Bayview Inn closed. There are prospective buyers who want to purchase it and operate it as a motel. Under the code, they legally can’t do that. The argument was put forward that the nonconforming use could not have continued because the property was in probate court, essentially legal limbo. In other words, the non-conforming use could not have continued even if someone had wanted it to.”
The ordinance proposed changing the code to say that the one-year clock would be suspended until legal issues were worked out and a new operator was able to continue the use. The planning commission reviewed this and recommended that the council vote it down, which they did. The commission cited a variety of reasons for the recommendation.
“(The reasons) were well thought out,” Wrede said.
Abboud acknowledges that there is lodging in residential areas all over town. “We may need to review that. Zoning is about all of the scenarios it catches. It’s about the ability of nonconformity to continue under these circumstances,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of operating as it is. It’s a messy piece of code. I wouldn’t mind looking at it citywide.”
The entire experience is full of irony, Leisek said, especially since Novak contributed so much of his time in civic participation.
“He put his heart and soul into this place, and into the community. This is a person who gave to this community and look what he is getting? This city needs to quit saying ‘no’ and use some common sense,” she said.
The Kachemak Bay Board of Realtors will be drafting a resolution on this matter, while the statewide realty group also will be looking at action put forth by real estate agent Chris Story, who is on the state board.
Comments are closed