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.
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.