Anchorage Assembly members pushing for the city to drastically change its residential building codes introduced a refined version of the policy.
Announced ahead of Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting, the measure’s sponsors said the intent is to simplify Title 21, the section of municipal code that governs residential zoning, to better realize the city’s long-term development goals. Those aspirations are outlined in the 2040 Land Use Plan, a comprehensive document drawing on demographic and economic projections to guide city planning efforts.
The substitute version of the measure will get a second round of public testimony in August before the Assembly votes on it.
“We introduced this proposal to start a conversation,” said Kevin Cross, who represents Eagle River on the Assembly and was one of the initial sponsors of the measure. “Our new proposal simplifies Title 21 with the intention to empower residential development that aligns with the Anchorage 2040 Land Use Plan.”
Cross said if the Assembly approves the modified substitute version, it will have no immediate effect on building and development codes, but “starts the clock on an 18-month process ... to consolidate zoning districts.”
Cross pointed out that many of the residential building codes in Title 21 are from a drastically different economic era, when high-paid oil and gas jobs drove development toward large single-family houses on big lots.
The latest proposal from Cross and his cosponsors states that demographic projections for Anchorage anticipate more aging households, families with fewer children, “diverse households and income levels that need more affordable housing options and more transportation choices,” more multigenerational families and a less transient workforce.
Cross said one impetus for modifying Title 21 now is to create more flexibility to build housing that meets a wider range of residents’ needs, in part by cutting red tape.
“It will be up to our communities, and Planning and Zoning, to decide what that looks like,” Cross said.
The original version of the measure from Cross and Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, who represents Midtown, proposed eliminating distinctions among the 15 different residential zoning district criteria in the municipality and replacing the complicated jumble with two broad categories.
The new version “further simplifies the proposal by creating a single residential zone, effective January 1, 2025,” the Assembly members said in a statement.
The initial proposal was greeted with fierce criticism. Dan Volland, who represents the downtown district and signed on as a third cosponsor to the new draft version, called some of the criticism reasonable, some ill-informed and some “fearmongering.”
“We are certainly not throwing out all Title 21 residential design standards,” Volland said. “Instead of having 15 different residential zones, how can we make some of those Title 21 levers or restrictions more universal, more appropriate, and have them in line with where density is called for?”
Volland said nothing in the proposal impacts business districts, the downtown district or industrial districts. He said his hope is the city will see its housing crisis eased if residents, homebuilders and developers are able to have maximum flexibility to build things like townhomes, larger multifamily structures, tiny homes and the like in neighborhoods where today, building anything but a single-family home would require costly and time-consuming rezone procedures.