Sullivan moves to ease planning, zoning laws

TITLE 21: Mayor says his proposals should make Anchorage more friendly to developers.

Anchorage Daily NewsOctober 19, 2011 

Mayor Dan Sullivan, releasing his long-awaited proposals for changes to Anchorage's zoning and land use code Wednesday, said he wants to change four major areas from the version that the Assembly had been considering.

He proposes:

• Less restrictive design standards for single-family houses.

"All the home-building going on today meets these standards anyway, so there wasn't a need to be so prescriptive about it," Sullivan said.

• Less stringent requirements for road improvements, drainage and the like that a developer might have to undertake near his property while developing the property.

"We want to make sure we're not over-reaching and asking developers to build roads or drainage or other infrastructure that really doesn't enter a benefit to that project," the mayor said.

• Elimination of two proposed code provisions related to Midtown. One would impose height limits on Midtown buildings. Another would create special zoning districts just for Midtown.

City community development director Jerry Weaver said the administration considers Midtown special districts and building height limits to be premature, because the city has yet to adopt a development plan for Midtown.

The mayor announced his proposals at an afternoon news briefing. Written documents describing them are posted at muni.org/planning under "current news."

A rewrite of the land use code, Title 21, has been under way since 2002. The Anchorage Assembly has provisionally adopted most of the revised chapters, but stopped working through them last year after Sullivan hired a consultant -- former Assemblyman Dan Coffey -- to help him put his stamp on it.

Throughout the long debate, there's been a constant tug-of-war between those who want more rules for such things as minimal landscaping and cookie-cutter houses, and those who don't -- including many developers.

The changes the administration recommends came from Coffey, Sullivan said, and are intended to encourage development. At the same time, Sullivan said, Title 21 is meant to recognize "we want a well-designed city, we want a city that is modern and recognizes that the redevelopment of Anchorage needs to be done better than some of the original development."

The administration did not accept a number of other changes Coffey proposed.

Asked whether the administration proposals would make Anchorage more friendly for developers, Sullivan said he thinks so. "And obviously they're going to have a chance to weigh in with the public hearings at the Planning and Zoning (Commission) and the Assembly," he said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will begin considering the changes at its Dec. 12 meeting, Weaver said. When the commission is finished, the changes go to the Anchorage Assembly.

Sullivan's hiring of Coffey, and the fact that Coffey's recommendations were kept secret until this week, generated controversy.

John Weddleton, former Planning and Zoning commissioner and former president of the Anchorage Citizens Coalition, said many compromises in favor of developers were made over years of discussion, hearings and committee meetings. The citizens coalition is a nonprofit group advocating for more attractive neighborhoods, public transit and the like.

Title 21 is supposed to support the city's comprehensive development plan, Weddleton said. Sullivan's changes will "shove the code further from the comprehensive plan," Weddleton said after attending the mayor's press briefing.

Citizens Coalition director Cheryl Richardson and others have criticized Coffey and Sullivan for not being as public with the process as they'd like.

Assembly chairwoman Debbie Ossiander worked on Title 21 on the Assembly and came to the briefing Wednesday hoping to get her hands on the administration version. But there were no printed copies and it wasn't available online until early evening.

"I'm eager for more information," Ossiander said late in the afternoon.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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