Compass: Don't put Anchorage neighborhoods in shadow

By ROXY McDONAGHJanuary 19, 2013 

As a homeowner living just north of Fireweed Lane, I am concerned that Anchorage is not doing enough to protect our families from shadowing by tall commercial buildings.

The protections that were built into Anchorage's zoning code over the last ten years are so flawed they need to be rewritten. Even so, the new Planning and Zoning Commission wants to delete those flawed protections and offer no defense for homeowners from tall buildings' shadows. One commissioner said if homeowners don't want shadowing, they should simply buy the threatening property.

The whole point of Anchorage 2020, the city's comprehensive plan, was to make Anchorage a more livable Winter City. But years of compromises with developers resulted in a 'height transition standard' that protected homes only from commercial buildings within 200 feet of a residential lot, and for only the brightest, warmest part of the year.

I moved into my home on East 23rd Avenue in 1972. One of the things I loved about my home was that on sunny winter days the sunshine poured in through the large south facing windows. The sunshine raised my spirits, making me feel comforted and warm even on the coldest of days. This is important during our long winters.

When they built the first Denali Tower (South,) it did not cause us any problem as it was far enough away and not so tall at 7 stories. When it was announced that a second tower would be built, the neighborhood supposed it would be identical to the first tower. As the summer progressed it became evident that it would be a much taller building. As each month passed we wondered just how much higher it would go. As the summer moved into fall it also became evident that this new 16-story building was going to start casting a shadow into our yard and over our home even though it is 3 blocks away. Ever since, our home has been in shadow virtually from sunrise to sunset during the winter months. Obviously, in the summer, with the sun higher in the sky, the shadow is much less.

Thus far, planners have not come up with ways to protect homes during the winter. Previous proposals have only proposed protecting homes during the warmer months that have more light. The no shadow rule would apply only from March 21 - September 21.

The no shadowing rule should apply during our darker months. That's when we need our daylight the most. It has been shown scientifically that the lack of sunlight in the winter can cause significant health problems. By deliberately adopting zoning rules that allow developers to block sunlight to residential areas, we are affecting the health and well being of the people who live there. It is not that difficult to develop zoning rules which make it possible to have a well designed area in which transitions allow planning for tall buildings, medium-sized buildings and lower buildings which do not cut off sunlight to people's homes. Good quality neighborhoods are as important as healthy commercial districts to the success of our city.

I hope the Assembly will see the importance of this issue for people who live in midtown, or who live in a neighborhood next to developers who may want to build very tall buildings in the future. We all want the same goal - to make Anchorage a welcoming place to live all year around including the winter months.

Roxy McDonagh is a long-time Anchorage resident.

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