Category Archives: housing

presenting my mt view house photos to APC audience

I was invited to show recent photographic work, along with three others to the monthly lecture audience of the Alaska Photographic Center.  I showed them my Mt. View house photos.  I’ve included all the photos in this post, and the captions below are approximately what I said about them as they were projected on the screen at the Anchorage Museum.

It was great to be on the program with the other three.  I’ve known Oscar for three or four years, seen him at Critical Mass bike rides… and a couple years ago he founded and ran a youth outreach project in the neighborhood, Mt. View Photo Voice.  This time he showed some highlights from a bicycle trip he made from Bellingham, WA to Colombia and back.

Charles Tice is an energetic and freewheeling young man who recently got that great moose shot on the flyer above.  Hearing how he did it was entertaining!  He has a future in photography, and knows it.  He is intentionally not letting himself get distracted with a day job, spending most of his time in pursuit of strong imagery.

Jackson is taking a deliberate, careful approach to portraiture and he showed a couple great ones, including a homeless man who sits at the entrance to the Homer Safeway store and does windshield chip repair to keep himself lubricated.

[There’s 79 photos here… I breezed through them all in 25 minutes or so.]

I’ve lived in Mt. View for 11 years and have been documenting it that whole time.  I’ve been specifically concerned about the disappearance of housing stock from the 1940-65 era.  The developed history of Mt. View can be chunked into four periods.  1920-40 it consisted of three adjacent 20-acre homestead parcels.  Each of the three original homesteaders subdivided their homesteads about 1940 and started selling lots.  Sales were slow at first, but picked up, post World War II.  A lot of houses were constructed from 1947 to 1952 to address a city wide post-war housing shortage.  From 1940 until 1965 the neighborhood was mostly single family dwellings, with a lot of trees and space between the houses.  Around 1965, the neighborhood’s zoning was changed, allowing apartment buildings to be built, coinciding with construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.  Mt. View became the most densely populated part of Anchorage and became a transient area and developed crime and social problems, which continued through the 1970s and 80s.  In 1990 or so, the neighborhood entered its fourth and present phase, contemplating remaking its infrastructure, conditions and role in the city at large. 
This photo was sent to me by a woman in California I exchanged emails with in 2006.  The photo is of her house on Klevin St. south of Mt. View Dr.  She and her husband lived there for about a year.  The photo was taken in 1963.  The same location today, as near as I can tell is where the Glenn Highway, built 1965, cuts through.  The Glenn Highway bypassed Mt. View.  Before it was built, what is now Mt. View Dr. was part of the main road out of town, called the Palmer Highway.

When the Glenn Highway was built in 1965, this part of Mt. View Dr. was bypassed.  A vibrant commercial street in the 1950s and early 1960s, today it’s still frozen in time, looking neglected and unimportant.

This is an impromptu memorial to a 14 yr old who was killed by a random stray bullet in a drive-by shooting in 2004.  I’m not dwelling on this aspect, just including this to show that Mt. View’s reputation for violence and a lack of safety continue.

The landscape surrounding and within Mt. View is a major factor in its desirability and quality of daily life. There is a very old log house behind the fence, its lot full of tall, mature trees, shown here in Fall.

A wilderness trail through Davis Park, at the northeast corner of Mt. View.  This photo is from the You’d Never Believe You’re In Mt. View Department.

Community gardens are located at the northern edge of the neighborhood.  I have approached them many times, but they are difficult to capture effectively in photos.  I am going to keep trying.

There’s a neat homemade aspect to these gardens — fences made of found materials, all kinds of different plants… they are also used as an immersion program for new immigrants, who grow vegetables for sale and home use.

This is an alley, in the north middle part, near Mt. View Elementary School. It is lesser-travelled, and has the feeling of Mt. View in an earlier time. Overgrown with wild rose, grass and various other native vegetation. From June 2008.

Looking the opposite direction, from further down the same alley, later that summer.

An effective use of trees.  This line of aspens, along the fence between lots, provides some shade and visual interest for the people in the small blue house and their neighbors on the block.

I found it amusing, the way landscaping was deployed by the owners of this building.  There are no trees in the front yard — instead they are clustered along the sides of the building, very close.  That’s different!

Crabapple tree blossoms in early summer.

A dense cluster of trees [these are Mountain Ash, aren’t they?  I can’t remember right now], with some ferns, groundcover, what looks like chickweed and a broken down chain link fence provide a casual green street presence.

Sunset light illuminates a huge birch.  You can see a tiny house on the left and the Chugach Mountains beyond.

Mayday trees, in full bloom in June, and a small cottage.

There’s a house in there amongst the successful, mature landscape; making a nice atmosphere and degree of privacy.

All of the trees in the photo are on one lot, with one lot in the foreground and two behind being mostly or completely bare.  These trees are a shared amenity.

This photo shows how the pattern works on the scale of most of a block — smaller houses interspersed with mature trees and other types of landscaping. It is not an unpleasant scene, eh?

Looking north on Flower St.  All of the trees seen in the photo are on properties with older homes.  You can see that even the loss of a third, or half of them would drastically alter the appearance and character.  I met with a lot of focus groups of neighborhood activists, looking into planning and redevelopment issues — and they found that one aspect almost all residents said they appreciated was the trees!  So why don’t we figure out how to not lose them?

Here we see the border between commercial lots fronting Mt. View Dr. on the right and residential property to the left, separated by a cross alley.  What little landscape plantings remain in this area are because there are some older small homes remaining.  The two spruce trees sit on a lot occupied by a yellow house, barely visible in the photo.

Here is a site owned by Cook Inlet Housing Authority where they plan to develop a multifamily housing project. It’s relatively barren, but also gives an idea of how the area looked at times in the past.

A couple examples of pipeline era apartments. There were some larger buildings built then, but mostly fourplexes and some six-plexes. These buildings are good structurally, but the components — siding, windows and doors, appliances, finishes, mechanical and electrical systems are near the end of their useful life. Mt. View and Fairview were plagued with these buildings in the early ’70s, the peak of their construction being around 1974. Almost all of the lots in Mt. View are the same size, 50 ft wide by 125 ft deep. The small houses might cover only 10 percent of the lot area, leaving lots of room for yards, outbuildings and trees and shrubs. These buildings, you can see that most of the lot is paved, the pavement continuing right up to the street curb. There is maybe a 10 ft wide strip of grass on the back of each building, not very useable.

The typical approach used in the recent redevelopment efforts is to strip the entire property of all buildings, underground utilities and all trees and other plants.

The next stage of the project, with a foundation for a new duplex installed.  The same clearing and foundation work is proceeding on the block in the background, and a view corridor has been opened up that’s a lot different than a few months ago.  Where there used to be groves of spruce, there are now just isolated trees or small clusters.

This is by far the best single family home built by Cook Inlet Housing Authority.  It is the result of a design competition, won by architects Mayer Sattler-Smith.  It doesn’t look like the houses from the ’40s and ’50s but it is close in spirit — uniquely Mt. View, and a one of a kind design not repeated.

Unfortunately, to build the Ideal Home, the house pictured here was torn down.  This house had a strange long shed dormer in the front with a stained glass window, an enclosed porch and some other unusual features.  It may have originally been a log house, as many log homes in Anchorage were covered with stucco in the ’50s.

This is a typical new house that has been built the last couple years.  It is a nice design, in many ways.  But the developer’s m.o. seems to be: if you like it here, you will like it just as well on 14 or 16 other sites.  Sometimes another one sits just four or five lots down from the first one.

One of the same new houses, next to a 1940s or ’50s house that is ready for teardown.  An interesting juxtaposition of old and new.

This and the next two photos are of the same piece of property. This 1940s cabin sat on a corner lot at Klevin St. and Peterkin Ave. until 2004.

And this is the house built to replace it.  Contrary to usual practice, the spruce tree on the right was saved.  I guess they decided it wasn’t in the way.

This is the same house four or five years later.  Seeing this made me feel better, like some of these new houses will fit into the neighborhood.  It looks less generic now, with personal items displayed by the homeowner — and because the spruce tree is still there.

Another log house. I’m going to show a few log houses. An historic survey of Mt. View was commissioned by the Municipality of Anchorage in 2004 — and noted the presence of around 100 log buildings existing. I am guessing that has dwindled to around 20 or so today. This one, on Bragaw St. is in good shape and well-maintained. It has a basement, and a large addition and detached garage behind. A lot of room inside.

A small late 1940s cabin on a corner lot at Lane and Thompson.  Features shutters with cutouts shaped like trees, and a nice fence.

This very small tidy log home was torn down just this Fall. It sat very close to the road [closer than would be allowed today]. The owners lived there many decades and they always displayed a lovely flower garden in the front, including potted plants displayed on shelves attached to the wall of the house. The house sat on two lots and had a shed built out of old doors and a charming ramshackle greenhouse.

Log house on Bunn St. [I think]. Unusual in that it’s two stories. Have some older pictures of it under previous ownership, before the tree was limbed up and some of the other landscape features cut down. The house seems to be hanging in there.

1940s cabin on a corner lot at Bragaw and Thompson Ave. Also torn town this Fall. General front view.

Corner detail.

Looking at the entryway.

This house was kind of a wreck, but I loved the feeling of it — a weird little compound, out of whack with marginal buildings, strangely formed connections… and like a lot of the older homes, it’s not sitting square with the street and property lines.  Torn down in 2005.

Log house on Klevin St. with some of its logs painted blue.

And the front of the same building.  The strategy/procedure used for teardowns has been interesting.  First all of the plants are stripped off the lot, then the utility lines are cut off and meters removed, the windows covered with plywood and it’s just left sitting there for months on end.  I wish they would tear them down quickly.

Cabin further up Klevin St. sitting amongst tall spruce. Some of the older homes lack defining site elements — here there’s no driveway, porch or really anything except patchy grass and earth.

Thompson Ave.  Not completely sure, but I think this one [photographed last winter] is now also gone.  I liked how it has log sections covering the door.

I think this may be a conversion of an older single family home.  It may have been lifted up and a basement built under, and converted to a triplex or fourplex?  There are good and bad aspects here.  The good news is there’s fresh paint on the outside and it looks pretty together.  But the landlords, it appears have simplified maintenance by denuding the cottonwood and cutting off the aspen trees three feet above the ground.

Shotgun-style dwellings [there are two apartments in each building] with a small courtyard with huge spruce trees between. Appears to have been a separate property, later incorporated into the compound next door [to the right, not shown], an apartment building with a play yard that operated as a day care center in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Seen in the background is a pipeline-era six-plex, casting a shadow over the older buildings.

There were a few other multifamily buildings in the original developed era.  These 1950s row houses sat on a large parcel on bliss st.  the building was hard against the alley, with a large yard area in front that was not dominated by parking.  There was lots of room for outdoor living.  This place always looked to be harmonious.  whenever i went by there in summer, there would be people sitting outside, barbecuing, lounging.  Seemed to be long-term tenants mostly.  Torn down in 2009.

This one puzzled me.  It is the size of a shed, about 8×12 ft., but it almost looks like it was set up for people to live there, and was [incredibly!] a duplex.  There are two other buildings, a main house and a detached garage on the same lot.

There are a few houses where there’s a fair amount of personal expression, like this backyard compound.

This house was a special sore point.  It should never have been torn down.  It was the best house from the original neighborhood, and one of the best from the 1940s in the city.  It was all original, on a concrete basement with a masonry fireplace.  It needed paint but in most ways was sound — the roof was fairly new.  This was a two owner home.  The 82 yr old owner died in 2003, having out-survived her husband by eight or ten years.  The couple bought the home in 1951 from the original owner.  Built in 1945.  Sat on three lots, fully landscaped.  She was a gardener and there were at one time 11 subspecies of lilacs in addition to many other native and other plantings.

Very small house on Schodde St., in good shape when torn down in ’06.

An even smaller one, though it doesn’t appear so in this odd view from behind a tall fence, in the alley.

I was always impressed by how well-kept this little place was. the lawn was always trimmed, the small trailer tucked neatly in the corner. Sat on two lots, occupied for decades by the owner. She passed away and the house isn’t there anymore.

This place is always likewise neat and orderly, and also has some kooky added roof forms.

Small house on Hoyt St., nearing its end.

Not a great photo of it, another very small house, this one at the corner of Flower St. and Parsons Ave.

Flower St. further south, resided in the ’60s/’70s but still displaying its original charm. Torn down 2010.

Another quite small, plain little place.  I heard that the owner lived next door and used to rent this house, but after a few tenants who had problems, he decided to just let it sit empty, but continue maintenance and upkeep.

Small, low houses.  Still there?

Hoyt St. house, slightly larger than some, still pretty tiny. about 600 sq. ft.

Flower St.  Cute, feel-good scenario.

Shows how plenty of space is left on the lot, with small house in the front.

Irwin St., 1947.  Still exists.

Typical arrangement for many of the early houses… small footprint, entry way may have been original, or perhaps added later to give a little more floor area, and a detached garage or shed.

Similar composition and features in a bit larger house.

The house is kind of a mess [easily fixed], a Quonset hut is seen beyond.  Classic Mt. View street.  Intersection of two alleys.

Irwin st.  Fun design, with twin dormers a bit overscaled for the house.

Hoyt St. House has a serious ice glaciering roof.  Technical problems, but the roof form is pleasing.  Built 1950.

Another one in its final days.

Park St.  three-lot mini-estate with small house right in the middle.  And carport and various sheds.  Planters made from tires, cut to resemble flowers, sitting on stumps; and other pleasing accents.

House had received an extension at rear and was converted into a triplex, though it still read as a single family home from the curb.

This doesn’t look like much, but it was the homestead house of Norman Lange, on Parsons Ave. One of the three homesteaders responsible for starting Mt. View.

And that is all I have!  Thanks!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

some pushback on ruralcap’s karluk manor proposal

This cute sign is posted across the street from a local franchise of the Red Roof Inn, at East 5th Ave. and Karluk St. in Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood. 

RuralCap, a multi-pronged social service agency is working on a deal to purchase the motel and convert it to a group home for homeless alcoholics, where alcohol will be allowed on the premises, under certain rules and conditions.  It is the first project of its kind in Anchorage, but the program model has been successful in Seattle and other places, according to Melinda Freemon, who presented the project at the January meeting of the Mt. View Community Council.  Freemon said that Anchorage will ultimately save money by getting inebriated people off the streets and into safe housing.

RuralCap also operates the Homeward Bound program, at locations in Mt. View.  Everything I’ve ever heard about Homeward Bound has been very positive.  That program also allows residents to continue to drink, but they are not allowed to be on site when under the influence.

Both Fairview and Mt. View have very visible populations of homeless, especially in summer when there are camps in wooded areas adjacent to both neighborhoods.  The issue of homelessness has been brought into sharper focus the last couple years, with city government considering more and better ways to assist and intervene.  And there has been concern about a series of deaths among the homeless population.

The first couple of years I lived in Mt. View I volunteered for a work crew on the annual neighborhood clean-up.  One of the projects we got to do was clean out homeless camps.  Sometimes I wish everyone who is opposed to Karluk Manor could observe the conditions in these camps close up.

Over the years the attitude in Mt. View has been cooperative, for the most part regarding the willingness to allow facilities like Homeward Bound to locate here.

Update 1/30/10: Fairview residents against the project have put up an anti-Karluk Manor web site.  [Comments are not accepted there, unfortunately.]

Tagged , , , , , ,

new duplex under construction

I checked out the duplex under construction at the corner of No. Bunn St. and Peterkin Ave. today.  There is a sign on the side noting it has been funded by the United States Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  I’m not sure if Cook Inlet Housing Authority is behind this or not?  It doesn’t resemble their others so much.  This one definitely takes good advantage of its setting, with large corner picture windows looking at a territorial view of the Chugach Mountains.  Nice to see this investment during hard times.

Tagged , , , , ,

big fall update

Alley near Mt. View Dr. and Klevin St.

Alley near Mt. View Dr. and Klevin St.

It has been awhile since I’ve written about Mt. View here!  I’ve had an event-filled summer including travelling for a whole month.  I reconnected with some old friends from the 1980s, and really didn’t think about Mt. View most of the time.  Still, there’s a lot going on — so will try, in a lame/half-assed way to tell…

Street Fair.  A really ambitious, volunteer-fueled family fun event was pulled off on an intermittently sunny Saturday afternoon August 8th.  Months of intensive planning sessions by local stakeholders and businesses, including Credit Union 1, the Anchorage Community Land Trust and many others resulted in an action-packed day.  It was very well-attended [jammed, really] and showcased Mt. View’s diversity.  Hope it’s the first of what will be an annual festivity.  [More photos.]

MTS Gallery and Trailer Art Center.  Mt. View’s expanding arts immersion facility soldiered on this summer with some truly groundbreaking works — including the critically acclaimed ‘367 lbs. of wax‘ by Steph Kese and Erin Pollock; a Bunnell St. Arts Center-curated group invitational show on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill; and a moody, well-crafted performance piece where we bid farewell to performance art producer Ruby Kennell [hoping, as always with straying friends for her eventual safe return to Alaska].  The current exhibit, Le Roman du Lievre: Marginalia, a creation of James Riordan [with a little help from his friends] opened Sept. 18th.  A rotating exhibit of student artwork from Anchorage schools was launched in the lobby space right behind the MTS Gallery.  Meanwhile, Trailer Art Center is exploring possibilities for a more modest expansion of its facility and programs, maybe involving moving to a different location [but still in Mt. View], while continuing to scheme with its funders, backers and members about how to build the center they really want.  MTS Gallery is located at 3142 Mt. View Dr., open Sat. and Sun. noon to 4:00 and Wed. 5:00–8:00 PM.

Trompe LOeil by Behind the 8 Ball Enterprises, from Spill -- Alaskan Artists Remember.

'Trompe L'Oeil' by Behind the 8 Ball Enterprises, from Spill -- Alaskan Artists Remember.

Clark Middle School.  The contractors doubled down and finished the gleaming new school in time for the beginning of the school year last month.  The 7th and 8th graders in the school’s attendance district have been distributed amongst four other Anchorage middle schools for two years while the old school was completely demolished and the new one built on the same site at the SW corner of Mt. View Dr. and Bragaw St.  No word yet whether or not the ghost moved into the new school.

Mt. View Branch Library.  The new library with attached community meeting room is under construction at the corner of the school site.  The building was built as a library in 1967, replacing a former branch library nearby but was closed in 1987 by former Anchorage mayor Tom Fink.  New Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan is of a similar mindset to Fink, and so the library system is again on hard times — so it’s looking like when the new Mt. View branch opens it will be staffed by one single paid employee and operate very limited hours.  Well, I hope the librarian still enjoys the work, and the library will turn into a well-loved neighborhood destination and resource.

Credit Union 1 branch.  On the opposite [NE] corner of Bragaw St. and Mt. View Dr. construction continues on Credit Union 1’s Mt. View location.  Underground utility and foundation work are complete and we expect to see the building coming up very soon.

Demolition and vacancy.  Teardowns continue along Mt. View Dr. and intermittently within the residential part of the neighborhood.  There is more vacant commercial property here than at any time in the last few decades.  Many of the buildings still extant are marginally occupied.  A wholesale reinvention of the commercial strip seems less likely than ever.  In the industrial district in the SW part of Mt. View, vacancy rates are creeping back up.  The newly finished Glenn Square Mall is only about 1/3 full, its prospects not looking well.

Crime and punishment.  A new web-based crime map of Anchorage shows major police calls grouped by type and and pinned to a map with summary info.  I was delighted the other day when I looked at this and it showed zero activity in Mt. View [however temporarily].  Naturally, there’s still a great deal of misinformation out there about the level of crime in Mt. View compared to other parts of Anchorage, as a casual web search will reveal.

Community gardens at the end of the growing season, McPhee Ave.

Community gardens at the end of the growing season, McPhee Ave.

Community gardens.  I haven’t paid a lot of attention to these in the past, but I have noted they are really popular and well-utilized.  They’re located in the back of the neighborhood, north of McPhee Ave.  There’s a fascinating third world ambience there, with individual plots fenced off with rough branches, construction fencing, wire and twine, visqueen, scrap lumber, bed springs, oven racks, etc.  The gardeners get a lot of use of the plants, even harvesting the stalks of lettuce gone to seed.  There are three large new community garden plots near the SE corner of Bragaw and the Glenn Highway, built as part of the interchange project.  I’ll bet those will be full next year.

Highway interchange project.  Work is nearly complete on the $30 million state funded reconstruction of the corner of Bragaw Street and the Glenn Highway.  A lingering issue of funding for surveillance cameras in the pedestrian tunnel was finally solved.  The traffic lanes have been open for a year, but landscaping work continued this summer.  Some residents have said that the artwork component didn’t meet expectations, but all in all it has enhanced the entrance into Mt. View, especially in terms of pedestrian safety.

Cook Inlet Housing Authority.  CIHA continues its housing projects neighborhood-wide.  They have also purchased a property at the SE corner of Mt. View Dr. and Park St., across from their $10 million residential-commercial building and demolished an abandoned gas station on the site.  I am guessing they are planning another multifamily dwelling of some sort on this lot.  It is a beautiful site with a territorial view [as the real estate people say] of the Chugach mountains.  Last November, I emailed a series of questions to Carol Gore, CEO of CIHA and I want to publish her answers here — however, she’s been reluctant to respond.  Since I have been intensely critical at times of CIHA’s efforts over the years, she probably wants to avoid controversy.  Too bad!  She has said some really nice words about Trailer Art Center’s drive to build an arts center in Mt. View.  I hope she will reconsider at some point!

Mt. View Community Council.  At the most recent meeting the current slate of four C.C. officers were elected for another one year term.  It is President Don Crandall’s third [or fourth?  I can’t recall] year-long term.  Crandall has a nurturing, concensus-building style.  The meetings the last few months haven’t been as well-attended as in past years.  That’s a good news-bad news scenario — the bad part is people are apathetic.  The good aspect may be that, since the C.C. is much of the time a sounding board for problems and controversy, maybe the neighborhood is relatively trouble free these days?  I kidded with Crandall that the C.C. has ‘jumped the shark’.  The C.C. meets the second Monday of each month at 7:00 PM in the basement of the Mt. View Community Center at 315 Price St.

Beach Boys.  There has been a bowling alley in Mt. View for many years, hidden in a low-lying property backed up to the north side of the Glenn Highway and accessed from Park St. via Mt. View Dr.  The bowling alley had been on hard times in recent years, but experienced a little bump a couple years ago when some bowling leagues returned to play there after the closure of the nearest competing bowling alley in Muldoon.  This summer, a new group of owners made quite a splash by holding an unannounced Beach Boys concert in the bowling alley parking lot Aug. 31st.  The Beach Boys also played the State Fair that week.

I’m going to be writing a lot here about the Highway to Highway project in upcoming months.  I think this project represents the biggest current threat to life as we know it in Anchorage.  More on this soon.

Tagged , , ,

title 21 rewrite dumbing down continues

The Anchorage Citizens Coalition continues to give a full court press to informing the public of the theft underway, vis. the future appearance of the community and the hollowing out of its core values.  [Show ACC some love for their efforts, I did!] 

ACC chart showing how far the rewrite has strayed from the vision, in regards to open space.  [Click on the image for a larger version.]

ACC chart showing how far the rewrite has strayed from the vision, in regards to open space. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

The latest two communiques from ACC about discussion and changes to the Title 21 Land Use Code rewrite‘s provisions for open space were jarring!  This is the first time I felt like the revised Title 21 could actually turn out worse than the current one.  Feb. 25th:

This draft requires no PUBLIC open space, leaving all of us responsible for paying for additional park space as Anchorage becomes more dense..

Clarion Assoc (that wrote the first drafts of the proposed code in direct response to Anchorage 2020 goals) recommended 100 feet of PUBLIC OPEN SPACE per 1000 sq ft of developed lot.  A developer would provide land or a “fee in lieu” to a municipal parks account.  That provision has been dropped altogether.

 The Anchorage 2020 comprehensive plan clearly identifies preservation of open space as a key community value.  Think of what Anchorage will look like, without the wooded buffer zones that exist now.  We can continue to take these for granted, up until every last one is defoliated.  When that happens, we will be a lot more likely to be breathing bad air a lot of the time, due to a lack of windbreaks.  Habitat destruction for moose and other wildlife will be complete.  And protection of creeks and aquifers will be at an all-time low.

ACC representative Cheryl Richardson was the only Anchorage citizen to attend a Feb. 19th meeting about the open space provisions.  Besides Municipal Planning Dept. staff and members of the Anchorage Assembly, there were four homebuilder developers in attendance.  Some of the developers’ comments on private open space provisions [followed by Cheryl’s comments in parentheses]:

  • If we make housing here too expensive, it will drive more people to live in the Valley.  (Multifamily development costs are less under proposed code than current code.)
  • Not everyone needs a flat yard. (Staff wanted the private space to be usable by young children and folks in wheelchairs.)
  • Why provide open space outdoors when our winters are so long.  (Because it’s our summers that bring most people out of doors.)
  • If you have a child, then don’t rent an apartment that doesn’t have play space.
  • Is there a requirement for the open space to have direct sunlight? (Answer:  No.)

The developers appear to be using the perceived lack of public interest to take over the debate, and they appear to be getting away with it.  If people knew what was at stake, there would be an organized opposition movement against these rewrite revisions.  We have heard the argument — we cannot afford to provide the amenities you want, and if you make us do it we will ‘take our ball and go home’, i.e. move to Mat-Su and stop building in Anchorage — before.  It’s a scare tactic and it rings hollow.  Developers always grandstand like this, and will say the sky is falling right up until when the new regulations become inevitable.  Then they will instantly adapt.

Maybe I can frame this without seeming to engage in class warfare?  Effectively we are ceding control of parameters that can make our lives much better, to people who have already acquired enough wealth that none of it will affect them.  Why don’t these homebuilders want the tenants of the units they build to have nice yards and enjoyable surroundings? 

Typical Anchorage infill housing development, this example from east Anch.  Street dominated by cars and garages, yards are small and narrow, no alleys, little concern for building orientation to natural features.

Typical Anchorage infill housing development, this example from east Anch. Street dominated by cars and garages, yards are small and narrow, no alleys, little concern for building orientation to natural features.


Does it get any worse?  Yes!  Four-plex apartments, street sides windowless, entire area between buildings and street 100% paved, no landscaping.

Does it get any worse? Yes! Four-plex apartments, street sides windowless, entire area between buildings and street 100% paved, no landscaping.

I’m not saying the homebuyer doesn’t have a legitimate concern [why should they be forced to pay for amenities and features they don’t think they need?].  But it also makes financial sense to stick to a vision — and those homes that do have useable yards, a woodsy setting,  and are well oriented to prevailing sunlight and viewsheds will hold onto their value a lot better than those built without a thought to their sites. 

Anchorage is full of examples of subdivisions where the facade of the house is dominated by the garage doors, where there are no sidewalks and little street parking availability; a lack of dedicated pedestrian ways; no alleys; where the natural landscape was completely obliterated in order to build the new streets and houses. 

Further discussion of the history of public open space provisions during the rewrite, from ACC, Mar. 4th:

But, in 2004, staff gave up on having developers either provide public open space with construction or paying a fee in lieu to a fund that would provide open space.  This left the burden on the rest of us to approve park bonds to pay for adding public open space as Anchorage becomes more dense. 

The decision feels like a “plot” because it was not publicly discussed beyond that 2004 workshop to which the public was not invited.
  Even Planning and Zoning Commission members were surprised to learn in 2008 that public open space had been proposed in earlier Title 21 drafts and then dropped.  Having three minutes in a public hearing to explain the open space problem to P&Z along with several other issues does not constitute meaningful public discussion.

Of all the issues summarized in Chris Duerksen’s 2004 report, I found dropping public open space the most disturbing.  What do you think?  Here’s the link:

I find it disturbing as well.  Too much of what happens in Anchorage seems like an inside job, intentionally flying under the radar.  If you aren’t concerned about any of this, just sit back and relax.  If you are concerned, suggest to your favorite mayoral candidate they should start talking about it.  And think about getting involved in another way, and talking to friends and neighbors.  Or else you won’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

This Eagle River subdivision is the poster child for bad development.  Soils from the denuded hillside began washing down onto property below.  Before 2007 there was nothing in local codes to make erosion control mandatory.

This Eagle River subdivision is the poster child for bad development. Soils from the denuded hillside began washing down onto property below. Before 2007 there was nothing in local codes to make erosion control mandatory.

The street side width of each building is asphalt paved all the way across.  There are small yards between the buildings but theyre sloped.

The street side width of each building is asphalt paved all the way across. There are small yards between the buildings but they're sloped.

10 feet from the back of the buildings to the undeveloped property next door.  This strip counts as part of the required yard, even though its continuously sloped, in the dark on the north side and theres no door opening onto it from the house.

10 feet from the back of the buildings to the undeveloped property next door. This strip counts as part of the required yard, even though it's continuously sloped, in the dark on the north side and there's no door opening onto it from the house.

These are 4-BR, 2-BA, 1,340 sq. ft. attached units, offered in the low 200s, by the way.  Apparently marketed to families who dont need a yard.

These are 4-BR, 2-BA, 1,340 sq. ft. attached units, offered in the low 200s, by the way. Apparently marketed to families who don't need a yard.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

blacklisted again!

I caught a cab home from the airport yesterday morning. Interesting conversation with the driver. When she found out we were going to Mt View, she told me a long story about her boss laying out the ground rules, a few years back at the beginning of her employment. He said, as a female she was allowed to drop people off in Mt View but not pick up; and that she was not to go there after dark under any circumstances. This was because, sometime back in the ’70s or ’80s a couple teenagers robbed and killed a cab driver. [I vaguely remember the news of the murder but can’t recall if it had anything to do with Mt View.]
As we crossed midtown I gave her my stump speech about Mt View and a summary of all my experiences getting to know other residents and activists over the last nine years. “It’s too bad,” I said. “I know your boss had nothing but good intentions, to keep you out of harm’s way and all. But why should a reputation of a place have to suffer? Why not blame the criminals and not the neighborhood?”
It’s a continual problem for us, and we have talked about it at length, until we burned out and became more ambivalent. A lot of people, particularly conservaties believe that a culture exists in Mt View that has a high tolerance for crime; and that any investment or attempts to forge improvements are folly at best. I guess I don’t see that. As a city, Anchorage would be a lot better off to take the position that all of its neighborhoods have intrinsic value and are worth all the effort we can muster to ensure peace and tranquility. We know what needs to be done. We just have to generate the interest and willingness to try. A big part of this is convincing the cab driver’s boss and other well-meaning people.
The cabbie was bringing me home from 10 days in Seattle. I spent a fair amount of time in the Rainier Valley district. In the 1980s a drive up the length of Rainier Ave. was somewhat fearful, as if you didn’t want to linger. It’s a lot different today. I saw dozens of 100 year old houses under renovation, a lot of new investment on the commercial strip and a lot less obvious intractable poverty. Also saw former retail and warehouse buildings adapted to new uses. This and other parts of Seattle are in much better shape than they used to be, and are offering a chance for first time home buyers to get a stake in the area, even as they are priced out of other parts of the city. As in Mt View, houses in the Rainier Valley, and Delridge, White Center and other places in South Seattle sell for a fraction of other neighborhoods within the city limits.
Seattle decided these places matter, when there was a danger of them becoming real ghettos, as exist in the rust belt of the midwest — places such as East St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago.

aurora square

Ron and Marlene Bateman, and Tamas Deak, the designer/developers of this new east Anchorage condo project appeared at the March Mt View Community Council meeting. MVCC President Don Crandall thought it would be interesting to see what some others in the area were doing in multifamily housing that was different than what’s commonly out there, and also to have a chance to ask those guys what they thought of the potential for multifamily housing in Mt View.

Their project will have 29 units in four buildings, the buildings pushed to the edge of the square site with an expansive common area in the middle. There is what I’d call a very formal and rational division of public and private space — all of the area on the ground is shared, and the entire roof area above each three story unit is accessible for use as a private yard. And the roof is structured to hold a hot tub, a small crowd of people, patio furniture and containerized gardens. All a little strange and unfamiliar for most Anchorites.

I’ve seen this sort of approach work really well. An architect friend of mine in Fairbanks has a really good example of this kind of a garden on her deck [photo below].

The Batemans and Deak didn’t have a lot to suggest for Mt View — noting, as everyone does that development might be tougher here because property values are depressed compared to most of the rest of Anchorage. But they suggested we should keep an eye on potential sites, and somehow try to guide development to the selected sites in the future. Exactly how to go about that isn’t too clear.
The crowd at the MVCC meeting was a little tough on them — one guy even suggesting they have all the ingredients there for a future ghetto! Judging from the people who have bought in to their project thus far [a lot of them local designers and artists] I don’t think it will play out that way.
I’ve known Ron and Tamas for awhile but I don’t say this to repay any favors — but I hope this project succeeds and it works to raise the bar. One of the regretful aspects of the last few years is that, while Anchorage has grown its quality of new housing is still lacking.

Aurora Square is near the NW corner of Northern Lights and Boniface, just west of the Value Village store.