Editor's note: On Thursday we mistakenly ran a Compass by Connie Yoshimura than was published in 2011. Here is the Compass that should have run Thursday.
Land-use regulations for the municipality have been in the process of a rewrite for the past 10 years. Various groups, organizations, outside consultants and planning staff have all contributed. Planning and Zoning Commission first approved the rewrite in 2010; the Assembly's provisional adoption followed.
Mayor Dan Sullivan then hired his own consultant to review the chapters. Staff and the mayor presented 106 amendments to planning and zoning for review, some technical edits and some starkly different than the provisionally adopted chapters. Because the amendments touched every aspect of every chapter and because there were five new commissioners since the original P&Z approval, the commission decided to take another look at the provisionally adopted chapters. We agreed this would be the most important vote that any of us would make on the commission.
Members include two former directors of the planning division, a commercial investor, a former military base administrator, a remodeler, two engineers, a residential builder and myself, a land developer and Realtor. Three have had appointments from the Begich as well as the Sullivan administration. We bring specific expertise to land-use regulation.
The P&Z commission is the only chartered commission in the muncipality. Its powers include the "social, economic and health" recommendations of the community to the Assembly. We review the school budget as well as the capital improvement budget. We also review and make recommendations to the Assembly regarding proposed amendments to Title 21. It was within this context that we undertook our mission.
We held 18 publicly noticed work sessions. All were attended by a majority of the commissioners and often by every member. Work sessions included builders, engineers, planners, developers and concerned citizens. Everyone was given an opportunity to speak if they raised their hand. The commission held two public hearings on March 1 and March 19, where individuals and groups presented testimony and written materials.
We agreed that community involvement is valuable and desired as a vehicle for creating a better community. We agreed that a community council meeting or other alternative community meeting should always be required for significant future developments.
We also support a more modified and simpler version for creating enhanced landscaping standards. We support giving more authority to the director of community planning as long as any petitioner can challenge decisions at the board or commission where it would have had original jurisdiction.
The commission did not agree with the mayor to eliminate all residential design standards. Instead, we support a slightly modified version of the recommendations made in 2010 and contained in the provisionally adopted chapters. An aesthetic and livability floor needs to be set for minimal standards to improve residential neighborhoods.
The commission does not agree with planning staff regarding a change in zoning districts. New zoning districts should wait until the land use plan map has been updated and a current economic study performed. The last study was done in 2008 and much has changed in the real estate world since then. In particular, the commission recommends that any mixed-use district be voluntary, not mandatory.
Much of our discussion centered around cost and retrofitting. For example, screening of Dumpsters should be a future requirement but retrofitting a Dumpster with appropriate space and turnaround on a small R3 lot that is only 6,000 square feet and contains four living units would take away parking and create snow storage problems.
Every citizen should be concerned about costs. The citizens of Anchorage are, in essence, buying new land-use regulations and they deserve to know what they will pay for higher commercial rents and housing.
Land-use regulations for the municipality have not been updated for several decades. The time has come to do so. We have done our best to balance the aesthetic needs of the community against the economic impacts of more and restrictive regulations for the common good. How well all the groups, organizations, commissions and Assembly will have completed their tasks will be our test in the future.
Connie Yoshimura, a realtor and developer, chairs the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission.