250-unit 'urban' upgrade planned for Midtown apartment complex

Devin Kelly

A major Anchorage property manager is seeking to convert one of its existing apartment complexes into a much larger development.

Since 1988, Weidner Apartment Homes has owned the property northeast of the intersection of the Old Seward Highway and East Tudor Road, now housing a low-rise, 54-unit complex called the Country Lane Apartment Homes.

Now, a redevelopment proposal from Weidner looks to add some 250 units and scale the building's height up to about five stories, mixing in smaller commercial space with residential.

The Midtown project, which marks the company's first major development in about a decade, comes at a time of mounting concerns of a housing shortage in Anchorage. A 2012 analysis by the McDowell Group predicted demand for about 18,200 new dwellings in the Anchorage Bowl over the next 20 years.

Low vacancy rates point starkly to the housing landscape. The Anchorage Housing Finance Corp. put the 2013 rental vacancy rate at 3.3 percent, a slight step up over the 2.6 percent recorded in 2012.

Weidner properties in Anchorage are about 97 percent occupied, said Gregory Cerbana, director of public relations for Weidner Apartments.

"In order to meet the demand, denser projects are going to have to be built," he said.

With the Midtown project, the company is preparing to test the waters for a comprehensive new set of planning ordinances, also known as Title 21, that took effect at the start of 2013.

Weidner is geared to be the first developer to apply for a new zoning designation that mixes multi-family residential housing with commercial use, said Erika McConnell, manager of the current planning section in the Anchorage Community Development office.

"It's really encouraging an urban form, an urban type of development," McConnell said.

The plan has not yet been presented before the Midtown Community Council or the city, but president Chris Bond said he's in favor of "any positive development for Midtown."

Bond said the project offers an upgrade for an area of the city that historically has seen little redevelopment, and a welcome boost to the surrounding commercial and retail scene.

Cerbana said it's early enough in the process to incorporate community concerns about the project. Architects have sketched out colorful, lofted design plans, departing from the more drab, boxed look characteristic of Weidner properties elsewhere in Anchorage.

Traffic will be the biggest factor -- both Tudor and Old Seward are heavily traveled corridors in Anchorage. McConnell said the close proximity of bus routes will help, and Cerbana said the company is working on other ways to blunt traffic congestion.

Cerbana said current residents of the building would be relocated while the project is under way. Construction could start as early as late 2014, Cerbana said.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.