Anchorage Assembly changes zoning and building rules for tri- and fourplexes, aiming to spur more housing

The Anchorage Assembly has approved a pair of measures reforming city zoning and building rules for tri- and fourplex housing, intending to remove some red tape and help spur more housing development.

The legislation comes as Anchorage grapples with a housing shortage, with rental and home prices skyrocketing.

On Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously approved an ordinance changing some city building rules. The measure is the second piece in the two-part reform of city code. At a previous meeting in December, Assembly members approved the first piece of legislation, an ordinance that changed city zoning rules for tri- and fourplex housing.

The measures remove several of the barriers and prohibitive costs that for years have made it nearly impossible to build tri- and fourplex housing in neighborhoods where city zoning and land use plans allow it. Assembly members Kevin Cross, Daniel Volland and Randy Sulte sponsored the pair of ordinances.

Additional permitting processes and requirements frequently add tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to projects, Assembly members and local builders have said. Those extra processes include extra building and drainage requirements and reviews, traffic circulation reviews, and offsite improvements — sometimes a builder is required to pave a whole alley or street in order to build a triplex, they’ve said.

“This is really an effort to make attainable housing units easier to build. That could be middle market rate, but that could also be affordable housing,” Volland said.

Tuesday’s ordinance aims to alleviate some of that by changing city code to designate triplexes as residential construction, instead of commercial.


“We currently treat triplex and fourplex as commercial properties,” Cross said on Tuesday. “So the unintended consequences (are) in order to build them, they go through a tremendously greater level of scrutiny and development cost.”

The measure keeps fourplexes in a commercial development designation, staying in line with state laws that regulate residential buildings of four or more.

Still, the measure relaxes some of the more costly building code requirements stifling fourplex construction, the Assembly sponsors said.

It will allow builders to construct fourplexes with a different kind of sprinkler system that will reduce “oppressive” costs while still ensuring bedrooms, living areas, and kitchens are protected by sprinkler systems, Cross said.

The ordinance also called for the mayor’s administration and development services department to review, within the next six months, its commercial construction permit and plan review process for fourplexes and come up with a faster, more streamlined process to make it easier to build them.

“We’ve discovered it’s still very convoluted,” Cross said.

The Assembly members and a group of builders, developers and city staff, including the building official, spent about a year working looking into the issues and developing the ordinances.

The zoning ordinance approved in December did not expand where tri- and fourplexes can be built. Rather, it changed zoning rules for tri- and fourplexes only in city zoning districts where they were already allowed.

One major change reduced the lot size requirement for tri- and fourplex buildings in one type of mixed residential zone to 6,000 square feet, the same as a duplex or single-family home in those districts.

Previously, a triplex needed at least 8,500 square feet to be built in those districts in city code. Most infill lots in Anchorage are about 7,000 square feet, so that rule essentially precluded the development of tri- and fourplexes, Volland said. Tri- and fourplex buildings are still held to the same height limits as houses and duplexes.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted in favor of that measure in December and recommended that the Assembly approve it.

Some Anchorage residents have raised concerns about the legislation. In December, the South Addition Community Council indicated its opposition to the measure in a vote. The Rabbit Creek Community Council called for the Assembly to delay its December vote and for the city’s planning department to provide an analysis.

More than a dozen residents testified on the legislation at the December meeting. The majority who spoke advocated for members to approve the measures. However, some voiced worries about increased density in neighborhoods with already limited parking and called for the Assembly to retain snow storage requirements for small multifamily homes.

In response to some concerns, members made several changes to the legislation before passing the zoning ordinance in December. Those changes included keeping in city code a snow storage requirement for fourplexes.

Slightly different than initially proposed, setback requirements for tri- and fourplexes now match requirements for houses and duplexes of the same square footage: Buildings of 5,000 square feet require a 5-foot setback, and a 10-foot setback is required for larger buildings.

“We are contending right now with a vacancy rate of about 3%. We saw the largest increase in rental rates in over a decade,” Volland said. “We’ve got to do something to create housing opportunity, a diversity of options for everyone in our community, and every neighborhood has to do its part.”

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at