The Mary Trail faction has won a round in the fight a controversial easement that cuts through land owned by a celebrity just outside the Homer city limits. The Kenai Borough Planning Commission on Monday night voted 5-4 against the vacation of the easement.
The vote is advisory; the Department of Natural Resources will make the final decision.
Grammy-award winning country singer Zac Brown, trying to keep people off of the land he owns overlooking Homer, was the first to testify about his request to end the public access easement across his land. In an untucked plaid shirt and jeans, and with his Georgia drawl, he spoke about wanting to keep his kids safe, as well as his love for the community he has come to call home.
“My story, when I first came to Homer I fell in love with the place, and I knew that I was going to spend time here,” he said. “I have five small children, ages five to 12, and I found some property and some people in Homer who I really liked a lot, and thought that I’d find some privacy in the community at the end of a cul-de-sac. And I purchased some other property around me to try to have a buffer.”
Brown, being the star that he is, is sensitive to security of his family: “Throughout my history of owning property, I’ve had people break into my house, and come into my house because of my profession. I am a musician. I’ve had success doing that, but I don’t really want attention unless I’m on stage somewhere. I’ve come here to have privacy and be a member of the community.”
He went on to describe how he bought several lots below his homesite to ensure his privacy and then was approached by John Fowler, who also owns lots below him, and who tried to sell him the land at far-inflated values.
“Then he sat me down at breakfast, he asked me to go to breakfast, and he told me that if I didn’t purchase his property, he was going to start sending hikers up through my property, up through a section line that was there. The section line is for those who are landlocked within a piece of property so they can have access to their place if there’s not proper access.
“So I didn’t like the idea of being bullied or extorted and I told Mr. Fowler ‘No thank you, if you want to get a favor from me as a neighbor, you’re not going to get there by trying to extort me.’
“He (Fowler) told me that other people would soon be on this mission,” Brown said.
This was the same set of details he gave to radio hosts Michael Dukes and Chris Story last week.
Some 20 other people testified as well — some who lived nearby and were witnessing the trespassing first hand. Others who were for or against Brown’s request to remove the easement that people had started using to traipse across his land.
The leader of the Zac Brown Band described to the commission the harassment of his family after he started building a home on the bluff.
The home is in the borough, and some claim the section line easement going through his property has continuous historic use as a trail. Pro-trail testifiers said they have been using the trail for years and Brown should have known when he bought the land that there was a trail through it.
Brown and others said that there’s been a growing campaign of harassment encouraged by a writer, Michael Armstrong, who works for the Homer News, and Borough Assembly member Willy Dunne.
One testifier said he has video evidence of Dunne trespassing on the land.
The case pits the rights of land owners against the desires of people to use easements as trails.
Brown has the option to build a fence along the easement to keep people from wandering up to his house or cutting new trails across his land from below.
That could help with his privacy but won’t fix the problem that has developed along his dead-end road with celebrity tourists driving down the road by the carloads to take pictures of his house. Neighbors told Must Read Alaska that up to 50 cars a day are driving to the end of the dead-end road, and at times have walked through the construction site. All of them take pictures of the house under construction and of the other homes along the road.
Three section line easement vacations were approved by the Planning Commission on Tuesday. But Zac Brown’s easement wasn’t one of them.