Democracy -- articulated in our country's founding documents as "We the People" -- is the backbone of our nation. The Publicly Approved Title 21 for land use and development in Anchorage is a perfect example of "the People" coming together, over the course of years, to find common ground and reach compromises for the greater good.
The people involved in the process came from every walk of life and profession -- including paid city planners, who had no ulterior motives to help develop the framework. A wide variety of groups let their voices be heard and in turn created a vision of Anchorage we could all be proud to call home. This united vision succeeds because of these common goals:
Preserve the value of our homes and investments
Improve our neighborhoods
Protect our community
Make the most effective use of our tax dollars
Continue to improve the quality of life in Anchorage for everyone
Anchorage is at a critical crossroads and must evolve to meet the increasing needs of our community. To accommodate growth in population and employment, the plans must include a comprehensive, long-term view. Yet, we cannot be against development, so we must plan for higher density and vertical development. Decisions now will affect the city we leave to our children and grandchildren. From a residential perspective, Anchorage homeowners will live with these decisions for decades.
However, long-term decisions must be balanced and focused. Among other issues, the Publicly Approved Title 21 actively addresses pedestrian movement, promotes public safety and protects our greatest asset -- our natural resources.
You have only to drive around Anchorage to see some of the issues addressed by the Publicly Approved Title 21:
Inadequate connections between schools, parks and neighborhoods:
a. Partial or non-handicap-compliant sidewalks that force pedestrians dangerously close to or into streets
b. Incomplete bicycle lanes that force riders to share the road with cars (Midtown is an example of an area that is dangerous for pedestrians and bikers alike.)
Subdivisions with only one entrance/exit
High-density developments with:
a. Barely enough parking for the homeowners
b. No area for kids to play, which forces them into neighboring subdivisions away from home
Safety concerns created by:
a. Blank walls facing public streets
b. No visible entry to a home from the street
Usable space dominated by pavement and without landscape breaks between driveway and garages
Commercial areas abutting residential areas without adequate buffers and transitions
Multi-story commercial buildings blocking sunlight from single- and multi-family residences
Unfortunately, under the guise of simplification (because the original ideas would be too difficult to implement or would potentially be cost prohibitive), many of the recently recommended changes verbally strip much of the intent of the Publicly Approved Title 21. This is an excellent example of how changing or dropping a word can completely change the meaning of a sentence -- whether intentional or not.
Ultimately, the Assembly will decide what changes are in the best interest of Anchorage's present and future. Change is inevitable. Change is uncomfortable. Change takes some measure of adjustment and compromise on everyone's part. Don't let the fear of change minimize the good we could do for our city.
If you look at the changes, item by item, do they make Anchorage a better place, a more livable city? Will they enhance property values? Or do the revisions shortchange Anchorage's long-term development and only help developers enhance their profits in the short term? By postponing necessary changes, how much will a future fix eventually cost municipal coffers? Shouldn't we strive to do better than the minimum standard?
The publicly approved Title 21 should be the version that is finally approved by the Assembly.
If not, public work sessions should be scheduled to allow the people to participate, and not just use the changes recommended by a select few. Participation by the people again would be democracy at work.
The proposed rewrites to the publicly approved Title 21 that were recommended by Mr. Coffey, the Planning and Zoning Commission (made up primarily of developers) and the Assembly can be found here. The document is broken down into chapters, with highlights that note the authors and their reasons.
To better understand the opposing public viewpoints advocating that Publicly Approved Title 21 is in Anchorage's best interest, go to accalaska.org/TakeBackOurTown.
Barbara and Clair Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Daily News. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara and Clair Ramsey