Monthly Archives: December 2008

art center really taking off!

I’ve been writing about Trailer Art Center and MTS Gallery for years at this site.  I have been helping the organization as a volunteer since 2005, and been involved at a higher level since last year as a member of the Board of Directors. 

TAC has been in a long process to determine if it’s feasible to build a permanent art center in Mt View.  This effort picked up steam in recent months, as outside consultants were brought in and many meetings were held to discuss the relevant issues and concerns.  Anchorage Community Land Trust has been facilitating the effort.  And in 2008, local planning firm Agnew::Beck has been helping create a business plan and assembling all of the current and previous work into a planning document.

This month the completed report, called Mt. View Multidisciplinary Art and Culture Center Facility Business Plan was released.  It includes detailed information about Mt View; TAC’s process and underlying constructs; and a five year financial plan.  Earlier in December, Rasmuson Foundation, a local major arts funding agency indicated their intention to support Trailer Art Center and fund a substantial portion of the design and construction costs of the new building.  Rasmuson’s support has always been seen as crucial, and their attention to the project will make it much easier to secure the needed additional funds from other sources.

I’ve been reading the report gradually.  There are two versions of it — one complete; one excerpted.  Trailer Art Center’s vision for the new center is stated near the beginning:

It will be the wellhead of Alaska’s trapped creative energy – energy directed through programming and access.  The proposal is to tap all of these individual and group sources in the community and direct the great spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation that has amassed. Everyone senses the moment.  There is a desire to come together to create a collaborative center for creating, exhibiting, and performing contemporary works of art within multiple fields while teaching and nurturing Alaskan artists at all levels of ability and experience.

Included is a detailed description written by TAC founder Bruce Farnsworth, describing the activities that will take place in the center.  Reading through it, one begins to understand how enormous this is for the Mt View neighborhood.

Concept Floor Plans, Mt View Art Center, by RIM Architects

Concept Floor Plans, Mt View Art Center, by RIM Architects

Conceptual exterior renderings.

Conceptual exterior renderings.

The building site currently under consideration is the old John’s Motel and RV Park site on the north side of Mt View Dr between Taylor and Price Streets.  It is near the center of the neighborhood and convenient to the main business district and Clark Middle School.

I will update this post with further observations as I read the rest of the report.

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historical photos

I found these four in the online AMHA archives.

Looking east on Palmer Hwy., todays Mt View Dr in 1958.  Ward W. Wells photo.

Looking east on Palmer Hwy., today's Mt View Dr in 1958. Ward W. Wells photo.

Aerial of Mt View neighborhood, looking west, 1958.  Ward W. Wells photo.

Aerial of Mt View neighborhood, looking west, 1958. Ward W. Wells photo.

Looking east on the Palmer Hwy. at Bragaw St., 1950s.

Looking east on the Palmer Hwy. at Bragaw St., 1950s.

Grocery/liquor store owned by Norman Lange, one of Mt Views founders, 1942-3.

Grocery/liquor store owned by Norman Lange, one of Mt View's founders, 1942-3.

And these two of the same part of Mt View in the 1970s, by Stephen Cysewski:
Looking east on Mt View Dr at Bragaw St in the 1970s.

Looking east on Mt View Dr at Bragaw St in the 1970s.

Mt View Dr in the 1970s.  Jamicos is still there in 2008.

Mt View Dr in the 1970s. Jamico's is still there in 2008.

Update: 2007 Google earth screen shot from similar position to 1958 aerial above.

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redevelopment potential on mt. view dr.

In 2006 the Land Use and Housing Subcommittee, part of the Mt. View Neighborhood Planning effort underway then spent some time in visioning sessions about how the commercial corridor could be revitalized.  Lately I have been wondering what that might actually look like, and about the reasons for pursuing it.

First a little history.  The main drag in Mt View is called Mt. View Drive.  Until 1965 or thereabouts it was called the Palmer Highway and it was part of the main route north out of town to Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley that opened sometime in the ’40s.  In 1965 the new Glenn Highway was constructed to bypass Mt View a few blocks to the south.  It was not a positive development for Mt View. 

From all along the winding route of Mt. View Drive there is a very wonderful panoramic view of the Chugach Mountains to the east and south.  The street follows a bluff line and sits on a plateau relative to the Glenn Highway and the rest of Anchorage to the south.  You can get some sense of it looking at the photo on the header of this blog site.  [I should find some better photos — it’s really great, trust me.]

At this point in time it feels like a prime opportunity to reinvent Mt View’s commercial center.  But to do so will require that all residents, stakeholders and government rally behind a plan.  I would like to start a discussion and air some ideas.  For the purposes of the discussion we will look at properties along the north and south sides of Mt View Dr along a two-block run between N. Bragaw St. and Klevin St.  But the principles could just as well be expanded east and west.  There is still a lot of vacant commercial property surrounding the study area, and uses that are “place holders” such as mini-storage and trailer parks.

All of the buildings on the properties in our two study blocks now are at the end of their useful life.  The land use is locked into a highway strip development pattern that remains from the earliest days of the road.  There is some parking for businesses, but although about two thirds of the property area is paved with asphalt, only one third of the existing parking spaces are legal, i.e. comply with current dimensional standards for stalls and maneuvering clearances and access aisles.  Most of the parking lots cannot be reconfigured to comply. 

The type of development that would make for a safe and vital neighborhood center isn’t possible because of a lack of exploitable potential.  Current municipal zoning mandates on-site parking, and there is minimal on-street parking.  This means that if someone wants to open a restaurant with 12 tables, they must have enough adjacent land to install a 48 car parking lot [and all that entails — parking lot lighting, landscaping, storm water drainage and treatment, etc.].   To an extent these are the same problems that face all of Anchorage.  The Anchorage 2020 plan called for Town Centers to be developed.  The underlying philosophy is quite similar, but a neighborhood center is much smaller footprint [micro compared to macro].  It’s relatively cheaper and smarter to redevelop Mt View because the infrastructure is already here and the street is backed up by the most densely populated part of Anchorage.

In order to redevelop Mt View Dr in this best way possible there are two major prerequisites: 1. a plan for street improvements that will provide substantial on-street parking; and 2. a revised zoning designation that will allow construction of commercial space without any requirements for on-site parking.  These two changes will mean businesses will have a great deal of flexibility because resources needed by all will be public and shared.  More businesses and residents located in a compact area will mean more amenities and parking will be available, and sensible planning will mean we can capture the intrinsic value of these properties.

If Mt View becomes a revitalized commercial center that attracts patrons from outside the neighborhood, every existing resident and business will also benefit.  If new residential units are provided along with new business and retail space, the presence of the residents will have a domino effect: the residents will supervise the area at all hours, in concert with business owners and lead to increased desirability and business vitality.

Key components to making the scheme work for residents, business and car traffic are: pedestrian access; traffic calming; parking; viewshed protection and view “captures” [through master planning and acquistion of “air rights” on adjacent sites]; and application of smart growth fundamentals and sustainable design principles.

Change is always really difficult.  But please understand in this case there are consequences for not changing.  We have already learned, I think that Mt View will not become a destination based on any single new business, or upgrades made that aren’t part of a coherent grand scheme. 

The drawings that follow are rough, and there’s not a lot there.  I want to continue to work on them and add detail to the buildings; landscaping, curbs and sidewalks; people and clouds and so forth.  But they will give some idea of potential.  Shown are the conditions in 2008 and visions for 2016 and 2028.

Here are some numbers for the two block study area:
Total parking: 154 spaces — 7 on-street; 98 on-site [conforming], 49 on-site [nonconforming]
Retail space: 39,000 sq. ft.
Living units: none
Office space: none

Total parking: 182 spaces — 50 on-street; 124 on-site [conforming], 8 on-site [nonconforming]
Retail space: 55,000 sq. ft.
Living units: 32 apts. — 13 1-BR; 5 studio; 10 2-BR; 4 3-BR
Office space: 7,400 sq. ft.

Total parking: 155 spaces — 51 on-street; 104 on-site
Retail space: 69,000 sq. ft.
Living units: 84 — 24 1-BR; 5 studio; 30 2-BR; 18 3-BR; 1-4 BR; 6 3-BR town houses [variety of sizes and types of units available, accommodating 200+ people]
Office space: 7,400 sq. ft.

Study area of Mt View Dr in 2008, looking SE.
Study area of Mt View Dr in 2008, looking SE.
Looking west on Mt View Dr, showing existing strip development.

Looking west on Mt View Dr, showing existing strip development.

Looking SE in 2016.  Traffic lane revisions, on street parking, a few new buildings.

Looking SE in 2016. Traffic lane revisions, on street parking, a few new buildings.

Looking west along the study area of Mt View Dr in 2016.

Looking west along the study area of Mt View Dr in 2016.

And a similar view in 2028!

And a similar view in 2028!

Looking east in 2028, showing a variety of housing and commercial buildings.

Looking east in 2028, showing a variety of housing and commercial buildings.

West part of study area in 2028, looking SW.

West part of study area in 2028, looking SW.

East end of study area in 2028.  Apartments oriented toward territorial view.

East end of study area in 2028. Apartments oriented toward territorial view.

2028 looking SE.  Compare to similar 2008 view at the beginning!

2028 looking SE. Compare to similar 2008 view at the beginning!

Update 12-18-08: Looking over some meeting notes from the Business Focus Group of the Mt View Neighborhood Plan [currently being facilitated by Agnew::Beck Consulting], I see some similar plans are already being discussed.  Thanks to Heather at A::B for pointing this out.

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begich on anchorage transportation priorities

More from Cheryl Richardson in an email:

Senator Elect Mark Begich spoke to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Here are his transportation comments as reported by an Anchorage Citizens Coalition member.  

There is strong demand for ride sharing programs, with a waiting list of, I believe, 600 people to participate in van pools from the Valley to Anchorage.
There should be funding for a train/rail option to the Valley before more costlier options like the bridge are promoted.
All transportation projects should be determined by local/community support. [emphasis added]
Financing and community support will drive the Knik Arm Bridge.  Funding updates are overdue and the bridge will cost $1 billion – with no plan to pay for it. Other problems include opposition from Government Hill, lack of a financial plan and availability of other solutions.
More road building leads to less congestion.  He was not joking, and referred to all of those roads he helped to build in Anchorage (including the Dowling Road Extension and the 48th Avenue from Boniface to Bragaw/Elmore through Bicentennial Park that the Mayor renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.)
Sen. Begich was VERY bullish on the need to build the H2H scheme, focusing on making a seamless highway connection from Glenn to the Seward highway. He spent a lot of time on this, and said that it’s a choke point for trucks and commerce from the ports.  Is that really true?
He was bullish on the Port of Anchorage, saying it’s happening. He further noted it was vital to U.S. defense/security needs as one of 16 critical defense infrastructure ports. The talking points sounded like the same talking points as former Gov. Sheffield in the talk he gave in November when he pretty much said the port’s expansion is vital to U.S. defense needs.
Personally, I was most concerned about the Mayor’s views about roads = less congestion and his strong support for the H2H project as it is currently envisioned as a major highway project. But the Mayor was a backer of the LRTP that said the same thing, as we all know.
However, as the Mayor said, if there are strong community views shown, the planners should listen and plan accordingly.

Interesting stuff.  I have been a strong supporter of all of Begich’s campaigns, and he’s been the best friend in city government Mt. View ever had [he even announced his run for the U.S. Senate here, earlier in the year]. 

I always find his views to reflect a strange mix of progressive and reactionary ideals.  He seemed woefully ill-informed on green design initiatives until sometime in ’06 when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels took him aside and educated him.  Now we are replacing street lights and making several other modifications to cut energy usage.  I just wish he would experience a similar epiphany in regards to long term transportation planning and smart growth.  I think it will just take more time.

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mt view supports mass transit

Just received this in an email from Cheryl Richardson of Anchorage Citizens Coalition:

Last week, Mountain View Community Council adopted [a] resolution asking the State to help pay for operating People Mover.  The resolution goes next to Fairview Community Council.
While the state’s general fund has been tapped for several hundred million dollars to pay for road building in recent years, Alaska is one of only two states that do not help its cities operate its transit systems. 
State Senator Bill Wielechowski and State Rep Max Gruenberg represent East Anchorage and have expressed interest in expanding People Mover service.  The Daily News also published supportive editorials last Thursday and Friday.
Anchorage provides less transit service per capita than other western cities, while charging more at the farebox.  Just this year, for the first time, People Mover surpassed its 1982 ridership levels – with less service and fewer buses on the streets than in 1982. 
Staff say that ridership climbed significantly along with rising fuel prices this summer and fall, and ridership has stayed up, even with falling fuel prices this fall.
Anchorage Citizens Coalition supports transit expansion based on Anchorage 2020 land development goals secured by relible long term funding.

Good news!  It’s tempting to say it’s too bad it took decades and $4.00 gas to get there, and too bad it’s another statistic where Alaska comes in dead last or 47th out of 50 or whatever.  But let’s not go there.  Any improvement, any increase in awareness is progress.

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malls: new design excellence, still killing downtown

Great Metropolis Magazine article about international shopping center design.  New projects by superstar architects!  All about the history of malls.  Makes me feel bad we are putting a lot of time and energy into slightly improved strip malls here in Anchorage.  Did you know dead malls are called grayfields?

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muni delays decision on russian jack park until early ’09

There was a public session on Dec. 1st where there was an opportunity to comment on four new options for park improvements.  Commendably, the first option was to do nothing at all.  Each person was given three little round stickers, to place on the scheme/s they liked the best.  When I left the gathering there were about 50 people there and there were at least 25 dots on Option #1.  Options #2 and #3 leave a smaller footprint but are still noticeable changes, and Option #4, though scaled down still has most of the features of the controversial original plan, including a driving range.

I am advocating for no changes.  I think the public is starting to agree!  The Anchorage Daily News came out in favor of improvements for safety only, in a Nov. 28th editorial.  At least one recent letter to the ADN editor again raises serious questions about the efficacy of golf as a conduit for rehab and recreation of troubled kids. 

Local cross-country advocate and activist Dirk Sisson gives more details in a Nov. 30th ADN guest editorial.  [Do yourself a favor and stay out of the comments section following Dirk’s piece, or if you must go there please take solace in the idea that these goons are too busy killing more brain cells in the evening to go to any meetings.]

I’d like to know a little more about First Tee, the operator/conecssionaire partnering with MOA to run the golf course.  I’d like to know more about chemicals to be used to fertilize fairways and greens.  Someone told me that mercury is used in some parts of the country to keep mildew out of the fine grass used on greens!

Further public testimony will occur on Dec. 11th, Jan. 8th and Feb. 12th.  Everyone who cares about this park, a treasure and a relic of this city’s wilderness legacy should study up on this project proposal and provide feedback.

Update 12/15/08.  In a letter to the editor in today’s Anchorage Daily News, a local resident lays out the ground rules:

Mayor can’t unilaterally alter park
The Compass piece by Mick Brogan supporting First Tee’s golfing development plans for Russian Jack Springs Park (ADN, Dec. 10) completely misses the mark. First, the folks who don’t want to see any of the remaining natural environment of Russian Jack sacrificed to First Tee’s proposed golf course development and related “improvements” are not trying to protect this small patch of natural land as a critical contribution to combating global warming. Instead, they are trying to preserve what remains of the original, natural scene in this relatively small public park, for the sake of the park itself, and for its many and varied users. So his suggestion that trees can simply be planted elsewhere as mitigation and “biomass offset” is pure nonsense.
Second, Mr. Begich is mayor, not king. He may have shaken hands and told First Tee that they could do what they proposed in Russian Jack. But Mr. Begich has no legal authority to override or ignore the existing, adopted park plans and related management plans that govern this park. If First Tee believed the mayor could just do that, they are either naive or gullible — and in any case, they are wrong.
— T. E. Meacham

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can’t get ’em up this morning

Recognize this?  It’s the music to ‘Reveille’.  You may have heard this if you were lying awake in Mt. View at 7:00 AM sharp.

One of the many benefits of living at Ground Zero.

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