• Resolution recommending the borough consider missing public documents voted down
By Hannah Heimbuch
After a convoluted round of parliamentary procedure Monday evening, the Homer City Council voted against a resolution that would disapprove of a planning commission decision regarding the Quiet Creek Park Preliminary Plat.
Developer Tony Neal is proposing the 71-lot subdivision plat, located behind the Homer High School. The Homer Planning Commission recommended approval of the preliminary plat in January. The commission was urged to reconsider, however, after it was made clear that several public documents concerning the proposed development were omitted in error from the public record. Commissioner Larry Sloane moved that the commission revisit the decision with the omitted documents formally included.
They voted not to.
In addition to lodging disapproval of that commission decision, Monday’s failed council resolution would have also issued a formal request that the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission consider the plat including the public documents in question.
Councilman David Lewis cosigned the resolution to support proper consideration of public comment, he said, and because the documents represented important information concerning water drainage and slope evaluation in the development area.
Though the information was presented in a timely manner — and some of it in direct response to questions regarding storm drainage raised at a prior meeting — it was not correctly included in the public record, and did not appear before the commission during a public hearing.
“And because of this people weren’t able to speak to it and speak about it,” Lewis said. “I feel that we are always being accused of not hearing what the people are saying. We should give them the chance to be heard. I am neither for or against this development, but I feel that everyone should be heard and that evidence should be taken under consideration.”
Before the resolution was voted down four to one — with Lewis opposing — Homer Mayor Beth Wythe recused Councilwoman Francie Roberts from the decision due to a conflict of interest.
Roberts lives in the area affected by the proposed development, and has been open about her attendance of several planning commission meetings surrounding the Quiet Creek approval process.
The voting confusion ensued when it came time to decide under what terms a vote could or could not determine Roberts’ recusal.
After one vote — conducted apparently in error — and a break to discuss the proper procedure, the table members ultimately decided Mayor Wythe would make the decision regarding Roberts’ recusal. They could repeal the call if all four remaining councilmembers unanimously disagreed with her. However, with only Lewis opposing, the decision stood.
Public testimony regarding the resolution showed strong support for both sides of the issue.
Former planning commission member Ray Kranich testified that a vote of disapproval would be a slap in the face to the commission, which has been considering this plat in various forms and through extensive public process since 2005.
Neal focused much of his testimony on Roberts, suggesting that her proposal of the resolution — cosigned with Lewis — was wrong and perhaps even illegal.
The very consideration of this resolution, Neal said, sent a message to the Homer public that corruption trumped the council’s ethical responsibilities.
But the call for ethical proceedings rang equally strong from the other side.
This was no longer an issue of whether or not the development should happen, said Homer resident Katherine George, but an issue of following city code and public testimony ethics.
“By code you have the right to comment on the actions of the planning commission,” George said. “When you ignore the code, rules, laws and guidelines that you have so painstakingly laid down, what are you left with? What kind of government is that?”
But some members of the council remained unconvinced that the resolution was the right direction to take, or that the council should be voicing concern over planning commission decisions at all.
“I’m very reluctant to have the city council take any kind of action to send this kind of message to the borough planning commission,” said Councilman Bryan Zak.
Councilwoman Barbara Howard was also strongly opposed the resolution.
“We have no business doing any of this,” Howard said. “I don’t know what important critical decision, or game-changing documents were submitted or left out that would cause all this to change.”
Resident Ginny Espenshade cited specific city codes in her testimony, regarding what she saw as the council’s right and responsibility to provide a check and balance system for the commission. Not only is the information indeed important, she said, failure to make an effort to include it correctly after it was properly submitted shows blatant disregard for due process.
“The omitted public comments provide unique visual substantiation and scientific analysis of public concerns about wetlands, discharge, slope and impervious surface areas,” Espenshade said. “If you don’t hold the commission accountable for the lapse in this plat procedure, who will? Failure to act at all on this resolution or failure to pass it results in tacit approval of the planning commission decision.”
Councilman Beauregard Burgess noted that Neal has followed every protocol required of him, and thus “deserved a fair shake” in the face of city proceedings.
Lewis agreed, but added that the door swings both ways in that regard.
“At the same time we have to make sure that those that disagree get to play by the same rules,” Lewis said. “And leaving out information at times is not playing by the same rules. So I just want to make sure that everyone has the same level playing field, and that everything gets entered in.”
At one point the council attempted to reword the resolution in a way that would satisfy more of the voting members, essentially removing the aspect that voiced disapproval, leaving it to simply recommend inclusion of the omitted documents in borough consideration.
Lewis, Burgess and Gus Van Dyke voted in favor of that amendment, with only Bryan Zak and Howard opposing. However without the requisite four votes, the amendment still failed.
There was no shortage of frustration during and following the decision process.
“Some of those documents came from me,” George said. “To have you sit there and say what I have to say is unimportant, not as important as what somebody else says, I think that’s wrong.”
But the council did what they could with a difficult situation, said Mayor Wythe.
“It was a situation in which the council really has no jurisdiction,” she said. “The opportunity that the council has is to object, and they chose not to object.”
Not everyone thinks it will end at that choice, however.
“Look in the phone book under attorneys,” said resident Charles Davis. “I wish you guys wouldn’t talk so freely about public input and due process and then vote against it. I think you’re just inviting legal challenge.”
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