Neighborhood advocates oppose Title 21 rewrite efforts

Rosemary Shinohara

Mayor Dan Sullivan is moving ahead with an effort to rewrite Anchorage's zoning laws, but some neighborhood advocates don't approve of how he is doing it.

The city has a new contract with Sullivan ally and former Anchorage Assembly member Dan Coffey to rework a draft zoning code, Title 21. Some in the building industry say the draft code, developed over eight years, is too restrictive and costly as proposed.

After meeting with many groups last year under an earlier Title 21 contract, Coffey recently held a series of small meetings with industry representatives.

Two neighborhood advocates went to the Assembly to protest the process.

John Weddleton, involved with the zoning rewrite over years as a community council chairman, city Planning and Zoning Commission member and president of the Anchorage Citizens Coalition, said there's been a "huge public process. This is an incredible project. It's important to Anchorage, and it's languishing."

Dianne Holmes told the Assembly that in Coffey's contract, public involvement and the efforts of professional planning staff members "barely receive lip service."

Both want the Assembly to pass the rewrite now. They spoke at a February Assembly meeting.

Sullivan said in an interview last week that Coffey has been meeting recently with industry representatives because "that's where the conflict is. The Citizens Coalition and others, they were happy with what was out. He's trying to solve problems."

Whatever version Coffey comes up with, Sullivan, city planners, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Assembly, and the public will get a chance to review, said Sullivan.

He hopes to get a revision of the zoning code, with his stamp on it, to the Assembly by midsummer.

The existing zoning code draft would set new design standards for Anchorage builders, ranging from landscaping rules to a limit on how many nearly identical houses could be built in a row and how much of a house front can be taken up by garage.

Most of the proposal has been reviewed and provisionally adopted by the Anchorage Assembly. It has many holes in it still, said Assembly member Debbie Ossiander, chairwoman of the Assembly's Title 21 committee. She said she is worried about whether the administration will get a new version to the Assembly quickly.

The draft was written largely during the administration of former Mayor Mark Begich. But parts of the plan drew big protests from architects and developers, even though they were involved throughout.

Sullivan said he hired Coffey to incorporate "what we heard and the sentiments of my administration."

"You have kind of a clash between idealists and practicalists -- people who have to use Title 21 every day in their business," Sullivan said. "Typically there's somewhere in the middle that makes good public policy."

"You've got to look at what it costs and what are the benefits," said Coffey.

For example, Coffey said, there are nine new zoning districts in the draft code, including two that are undefined but intended exclusively for Midtown.

"How much will it cost to go through an area rezone?" he asked.

He proposes eliminating the special Midtown districts.

Other examples where he feels costs don't match benefits will have to wait until the proposals get to Sullivan, sometime next month, Coffey said.

"There's dozens of examples I can think of."

Weddleton said in an interview that the existing draft is built around "compromises that bring it balance. If you take out everything that increases the cost, it will be out of balance."

Some aspects, such as a decrease in the amount of parking required, will actually reduce costs, he said. "So it's not fair to say it generally increases the costs."

Sullivan said Coffey's proposals will be advisory. "I may decide some of his recommendations are not workable."

Coffey's contract last year to review Title 21 was for up to $30,000 and covered late July through December.

Coffey's new Title 21 contract goes through June and is for $19,500.

"The work is more extensive than people realized," said Sullivan. "Something that took eight years to get to this point is not casually reviewed."

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.