Mat-Su mayor removes a layer from regulations on multifamily housing

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A veto from the Mat-Su Borough mayor will relax a contentious multi-family housing ordinance designed to promote affordable housing but also protect safety and aesthetic goals of nearby residents.

A bid by some Assembly members to overturn the veto failed Tuesday night.

The borough requires a multi-family housing permit from developers building six or more dwellings on just under an acre or any more than six on any size parcel, planners say.

But the Assembly recently added another layer of protection, voting to require a permit for more than six dwellings on adjoining parcels totalling five acres or less.

That's the provision Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss vetoed. He announced the veto in a brief email that said the "tinkering on this ordinance has been going on for over a year and I (s)incerely desire a new year for us that does not include rehashing old business that has long since taken care of the original concerns."

The Assembly voted 4-3 to override the veto during a meeting Tuesday night. It takes five votes to override a mayoral veto, so that move failed. Assembly members Jim Sykes, Jim Colver, Vern Halter, Matthew Beck voted in favor of the override; Darcie Salmon, Steve Colligan and Ron Arvin opposed it.

Before the vote, Sykes said the mayor didn't give a valid reason for his veto. The Assembly was close to healing the rift over multi-family housing, he said, but the veto "ripped off the scab and opened it up again."

The more recent language was based on the recommendations of the borough planning commission, noted Colver, who sponsored it.

For his part, DeVilbiss said after the vote that he was surprised the admittedly "skimpy" language in his veto got past the borough attorneys.

"Really you don't have to have much of a reason to issue a veto," he said. "I did object to the content of the motion and the process by which we got there."

The borough's multi-family ordinance has been in place for about five years, planning officials say.

Citing a slow housing market and existing health and safety protections provided by other agencies, Salmon sponsored a bid to repeal the ordinance in 2012 but those plans were tabled after a public outcry. Residents of Willow and Big Lake expressed concern that the owner of a notorious row of small, mostly unplumbed cabins at Mile 49 of the Parks Highway planned to relocate the displaced cabins in their neighborhoods and would face little in the way of permitting if the ordinance went away.

The multi-family permits address issues including landscaping, drainage, wastewater disposal, and various fire safety requirements such as driveway width and building separation.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.