While the recently issued draft Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan goes into some detail as to the “threats” from the natural environment including potential tsunami and flooding hazards, it does not appear to give similar attention to the land use benefits of preserving the Spit’s ecological values. While the Plan, correctly, points out that the Spit contains outstanding ecological values including birding areas, tidal flats and critical habitat and that the spit retains national and international reputation such values have among birders and other visitors to Homer, it does not take the next logical step of analyzing the true economic and other values of the Spit to the public and the local community. The Plan, for example, states “that many tidal lands that make up portions of parcels within the acreage (charts) are unusable.” The mere fact that tidelands cannot be used for development, however, ignores the fact that such lands are highly usable as conservation areas and valuable for use by the public when designated as such.
The Kachemak Bay Conservation Society believes that the true economicengine for theSpit is a healthy marine environment which makes the area a destination/attraction and an important part of the identity of Homer.The Spit can be the catalyst for keeping the downtown core of Homer vibrant.Rather than dilute the Spit with more small scale shops or over-competing restaurants, the challenge for the city should not be how much more overslope development there should be on the Spit but, rather, how do we revitalize and create incentives for maintaining the downtown core.What can be done to create a unifying design for ‘Old Town Homer’ that makes that historic district create its own special character and attractions with pedestrian friendly connectivity? How can the proposed town square become a unifying force for Homer? What is the design future for Pioneer Avenue that will showcase the art and culture of the area by innovative landscape design, signage, lighting, public art works, and architectural treatments? How can Homer’s strong bed and breakfast and tourism rental enterprises benefit from the Spit?
Instead of large scale port development increasing the risk of toxic hazards, polluted waters, ocean acidification, and industrial waste, the City should encourage business activities that provide support services for fisheries, renewable energy projects, green technologies, and eco-tourism. The City’s adoption of the Homer Climate Action Plan encouraging alternative energy development, green technologies, and small business development that provides green jobs is a step in the right direction in this regard but is not given sufficient attention in the Spit Plan.
Similarly, an important part of a healthy marine environment is a commitment to no further loss of intertidal areas. it is encouraging that the Plan recommendation that any development on the west side of the Spit should not intrude on the high tide beach zone in recognition of the important lateral transfer of nutrients and inter tidal enrichment.. Yet, public comments have clearly emphasized resistance to over-development on the Spit as a whole. The Plan, for example, should be clearer on prohibitions on additional condominium development, adoption of height standards and limits on residential development.
The Homer Spit has the potential to become a vibrant gathering commercial, art, and interpretive site, and place that provides access to key way finding points of the Spit. The Planning Commission should initiate a careful landscape and architectural plan that helps define the image for the Spit. But the City can’t do this alone. We all share responsibility for a healthy environment and strong local economy and the Spit Comprehensive Plan provides an important avenue to reach this goal.
Please come and make your voice heard at City of Homer Planning Commission public hearing on the draft Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan on January 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm in the City Council Chambers. See you there!