Tag Archives: land use code

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: http://www.muni.org/iceimages/planning/Duerksen_wkshp_report.pdf

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.

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