Neighbors protest new street name as city tries to reduce duplicate addresses

Devin Kelly
Erik Hill

Bryan Emmons isn't moving from his house on Davis Street in Eagle River, where he's lived since he was an infant. But he might soon get a new address.

At the start of the year, five streets in the Municipality of Anchorage were named "Davis." Since October, three of those streets quietly acquired new names: Davis Court in Chugiak is now Paul Davis Circle; Davis Drive in South Anchorage is now Celtic Drive. Elsewhere in South Anchorage, Davis Street turned into Mulligan Road.

But on Davis Street in Eagle River, residents aren't changing their addresses without a fight. On Tuesday night, a petition, spearheaded by Emmons, will come before the Anchorage Assembly.

"I've got to change utility bills, driver's license, vehicle registrations, the whole works," said Emmons, reached by phone at his Eagle River home. "It's like we've moved and haven't gone anywhere."

Anchorage first outlawed duplicate street names by ordinance in 1972. But after the killing of former public safety commissioner Glenn Godfrey in 2002, where an investigation showed emergency response was slowed by confusion over duplicate street addresses, the city stepped up efforts to clean up address databases.

Since the project started in 2003, 91 duplicate names have changed, said Jonathan Swanson, acting addressing official with the Municipal Streets and Addressing division. And there's still a backlog. At least 36 duplicate streets are currently awaiting action, Swanson said, referring to a list of "problem street names" maintained by his office.

In the cases of the Davises, five streets with the same name is at the higher end. That number is usually closer to two, Swanson said.

The Davis street that won't change? The first one established in Anchorage, Davis Street in Mountain View, platted in 1959. It was likely named after Maj. Gen. Jefferson Columbus Davis, the first American to govern Alaska after the end of Russian colonial rule, Swanson said.

Al Tamagni, spokesman for the Anchorage Fire Department, said problems with duplicate streets rest chiefly with dispatchers who field the calls.

"Fewer duplicate street names means less opportunity for the caller to give a wrong location and for us to go to the wrong location," Tamagni said.

Anchorage police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro echoed Tamagni, but said police dispatchers reported seeing similar street names "a lot less often." She also said confusion between Anchorage and Eagle River is helped by the differing number of digits in the addresses, and the familiarity of officers with the regions they patrol.

In general, callers help dispatchers by being as precise as possible on the numerical portion of the address, she said.


Emmons said he learned of the incoming address change in August. The trouble was, he said, he heard about it from a next-door neighbor.

"I said, 'Were they going to allow us an opportunity to participate?' " Emmons recalled, referring to the municipality.

He called Swanson in the addressing division and learned the voting process began in June, and the name Grayling Court won out among the neighborhood residents. The other potential names were Rhubarb Court, Plum Tuckered Court and the city's suggestion, Joshua Court.

Emmons said he and his parents, Ronald and Kathleen Emmons, were never included in the public voting process -- which the city later acknowledged.

"A property owner was accidently excluded from the public outreach process," according to a Aug. 22 memo from Swanson to Mayor Dan Sullivan's office.

Sullivan rescinded the original order to name the street Grayling Court, and a re-vote took place. Grayling Court still won the second time around.

But Emmons has since mounted a formal protest against the change, going door-to-door and gathering more than 20 signatures from neighbors for a petition. On Tuesday, the Assembly will vote whether or not to approve the mayor's new executive order.

Emmons said his family has lived in the house on Davis Street since he was 6 months old. He's 37 now; his parents are in their 60s. His father, Ronald Emmons, said he's worried about the post office delivering mail.

Bryan Emmons said neither he nor his parents bothered to vote when the materials finally reached them.

"I knew that we were going to fight this until the end," Emmons said. "And maybe the end has me at the DMV changing my address, effort has been exerted in order not to do that."


Protests to street name changes aren't uncommon, though petitions usually focus on the name selection, rather than the change itself. Of the 18 streets designated for renaming this year, four have been contested by residents, including Davis Street in Eagle River, according to Barbara Jones, municipal clerk. Not all of the street changes were related to duplication, but 12 of them were, Swanson said.

For months, an effort to change the name of Lori Drive, a duplicate name in West Anchorage, to Eventide Drive has been tangled in protest. It takes 33 percent of property owners to submit a petition to protest a name change, and the three property owners that live on the street have yet to agree on a name, Swanson said. Eventually, the Assembly can intervene to make the final call, he said.

Other efforts this year were more successful. In April, residents of Lupine Street, another duplicate, petitioned to change the name to Baker Place instead of Bergamot Place.

For some places, suggestions never come in, leaving the naming decision up to the addressing department. Swanson was tasked with choosing a new name for the duplicate Norman Street, an uninhabited location in an undeveloped part of South Anchorage.

Norman Street is located off Dicey Street. Swanson picked Tricky Place.


Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.