After 10 years of revisions, city land use plan gets public hearing

Rosemary Shinohara

The major rewrite of the Anchorage city zoning code that's been in progress for the past 10 years finally goes to the Assembly for public hearing Tuesday.

The proposed Title 21 is more than 700 pages, covering development issues ranging from commercial design to Dumpster rules. Most of it was "provisionally adopted" by the Assembly between 2007 and 2010, one chapter at a time. After Mayor Dan Sullivan came into office, that process halted while he and his consultant reviewed the changes. Sullivan recommended some amendments. Then the Planning and Zoning Commission substantially rewrote many provisions. Finally, an Assembly committee headed by Debbie Ossiander reviewed everyone else's work and decided which version to go with.

Assembly chairman Ernie Hall said he expects more than one public hearing. The next step, after all the testimony, will be Assembly amendments and a vote.

City planners Tom Davis and Erika McConnell helped the Daily News sort out the new proposals. Here is a sampling of some of the many controversial issues addressed in the rewrite, and where you'll find them in the code. Unless specified elsewhere, these topics are in Chapter 7, development and design standards.

Dumpsters (p. 389)

They must be screened from view of streets. Current code requires new developments to have Dumpsters screened only if the Dumpsters are part of a parking lot. The screening can be fences, structures or landscaping. Existing Dumpsters are exempt for seven years.

"To the extent reasonably feasible," they'll also have to be set back from the front of a building.

In urban districts, no Dumpsters will be allowed for single-family residences up to triplexes on lots less than 40,000 square feet.

Garages (p. 449)


Garages can take up no more than 67 percent of the width of the front of a single family house. That's eased up from an earlier version that set the limit at 60 percent.


Townhouse structures with rows of attached units are also subject to the 67 percent width requirement. (p. 446)


Commercial design standards (p. 458)


Designers pick from among choices that make buildings more accessible for pedestrians and visible to the street" such as windows on the street side, primary entrances near the street, or placing more of the vehicle parking beside the building instead of all in front.


They also choose from among weather-related amenities such as providing an ice-free walkway, putting a canopy over primary entrances, or features that capture sunlight such as outdoor areas at customer entrances having sunlight access.


Developers of large retail buildings -- over 20,000 feet -- (p. 463) face additional standards for accessible entrances, architectural details on the sides of buildings that face public streets, plus landscaping and walkways. The additional standards are in a menu of design choices. Applicant selects two. These are similar to the big box-store rules that exist today.

Landscaping (p. 359)


Except for lots with one building and up to four housing units, all developments must have a landscape plan prepared by a licensed landscape architect. This is new.


Interior landscaping requirements for larger parking lots are increased.


Residential developments must include a tree for every lot.


There are incentives to retain existing trees. Existing trees over a certain size are credited as equal to three new trees.


Eight feet of landscaping including some trees is required on average along main roads such as arterials instead of six feet of only shrubs.

Stream setbacks (p. 310)

Buildings should be more than 50 feet from urban creeks, the experts say, to allow room for flood control, to filter out pollutants and maintain fish and wildlife habitat. Anchorage currently requires a 25-foot setback. Nobody has figured out yet how to increase the setback and not affect the values of existing houses that would be in violation. So the proposal is to keep it at 25 feet and possibly deal with the issue again later.

In alpine districts in Eagle River and the Hillside, the existing standard is 100-foot setbacks. The new Title 21 would decrease that to 50.

Walkways to buildings (p. 347)

Walkways must be built to connect from a street to primary entrances of commercial and multifamily buildings, except for single and two-family houses and industrial areas. Walkways are also required from the primary entrance of a building to any abutting bus stops.

B-3 districts

The general business district zoning used outside the city center is largely unchanged (Chapter 4, p. 129) Clarion Associates, the consultant that critiqued Anchorage's code in 2003, said the B-3 district "might be characterized as a 'Wild West' commercial district because it allows a wide-open list of office, retail, wholesale, business services and institutional uses."

Subdivisions (p. 449)

No cookie-cutter houses: A subdivision of five or more houses must have houses that look different from each other. Depending on the size of the subdivision, there must be two to six different models with, for example, different rooflines, different siding material, different window placement and entrance.


Alternative housing (Chapter 8, p. 49)


New conservation subdivisions allow smaller lots to preserve open areas such as wetlands within the subdivision.


Cluster housing, carried over from existing code, likewise permits smaller lots with open space included.


Narrow-lot housing allows smaller-than-usual lots to make houses more affordable.

Cul de sacs (p. 344)

An easement for a 10 foot-wide path would have to be provided whenever feasible from the bulb of a cul-de-sac to the closest street or walkway.

Lighting standards (p. 433)

There's a spot reserved for requirements regarding glare, spillover light and safety, but they're still being worked on.

Mixed use zoning


A new district called the multifamily residential mixed use district is created to allow high-density neighborhoods in combination with commercial retail, services and offices near Downtown and Midtown. The idea is to provide housing near employment and to promote walking and bicycling as a transportation choice. (Chapter 4, p. 121.)


Rather than creating other mixed-use districts, the revised code contains requirements and incentives for individual developers when they propose to mix residential and nonresidential uses on the same lot. For example, they might be allowed to devote less space to parking. (Chapter 4, p. 131)


Housing street view -- (three or more units) (p. 435)

No more fourplexes or large residential buildings with blank walls facing the street: At least 15 percent of the building facade must be windows or primary entrances, and builders must pick from a menu of design features such as changes in roofline, or bump-outs or recesses in the building wall, balconies, bay windows or a change in siding material to make the street side of buildings visually interesting. Designers may propose alternatives to these menu items.

Northern climate (p. 440)

Builders must pick four items from a menu of choices on how to respond to the northern climate. Examples: an ice-free walkway, an outdoor open space with sunlight access, or an interior, sun-lit atrium.

Outdoor open spaces p. 324

The amount of private open space required in multifamily zones is not substantially changed; however, there are stronger standards for the minimum size and usability of outdoor spaces and incentives for improving the quality of outdoor open spaces for residents.

Landscaping around apartment and townhouse buildings


No more endless asphalt: Townhouses must have landscaped breaks between driveways. (Note: The townhouse landscaping standard is in the residential design standards; see page 446.)


More building foundation landscaping requirements and incentives so that there is a landscaped break been the residential units and the paved parking lot.

Parking (p. 394)

The minimum parking spaces required is lower and more flexible for many uses, like offices, furniture stores and carpet stores. More rules are based on local parking demand studies.

There are new maximum parking rules that prevent big box retailers from paving over more land than is needed for parking demand.



Commercial building developers must take steps to prevent new multistory buildings from overshadowing adjoining residential neighborhoods (Chapter 6, p. 299); for example, a builder might position a building at a different spot on the building site.


The latest version leaves out recommendations for regulating high-rise buildings to lessen the shadow they cast on nearby neighborhoods. The city hasn't figured out yet how to deal with the lack of sunlight in winter but reserved a section to deal with it. (Chapter 7, p. 467)

Sidewalks along streets (p. 346)

The Planning and Zoning Commission wanted to roll back even on major roads requirements that there be a sidewalk or path on both sides of the street. But the latest version says there must be sidewalks on both sides of all new streets in urban districts, except in industrial districts, and in cul-de-sacs with low traffic levels. In rural areas of the Hillside and Eagle River, sidewalks must be on at least one side of collector and arterial streets and otherwise as provided in the comprehensive plan.

Site condos (p. 451)

These are two or more individual houses or townhouse structures on a single lot. Many site condo developments earned a bad reputation a few years ago as plain, small houses packed on small lots with a lot of asphalt in front. The new version sets standards such as requiring greenery in front of units and walkways in the middle of long blocks. And the plan must be reviewed by the planning department.

Snow storage (p. 333)

This section just says new development sites that plan to store snow must show that they have an adequate snow storage area. Existing businesses are exempt from providing a snow storage area. Earlier Title 21 drafts prescribed a minimum size for snow storage areas based on the size of the parking lot. The latest version leaves it up to the property owner, with the proviso that a professional architect, engineer or land surveyor must agree that the plan is adequate. The revised code also allows for alternatives to snow storage such as hauling it away or melting it.

Wind (p. 468)

Tall buildings -- higher than 90 feet, or about seven to nine stories -- must be designed to not add to bad unsafe or uncomfortable wind conditions for people entering the building and pedestrians on sidewalks outside the building.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

Read the proposed Title 21 rewrite