City wants to sell lot where Anchorage’s largest homeless camp has taken root

Anchorage city officials want to rezone and sell a long-vacant lot in Midtown that’s grown into the city’s largest homeless camp.

These days, the lot at 40th Avenue and Denali Street is a sprawling homeless camp, filled with junked vehicles, snow-burdened tents and dwellings made of plywood and blue tarps. Dozens of people live there in difficult conditions. But it wasn’t always that way: Over the past 20 years, those 8 acres in the middle of Anchorage have been the focus of unrealized plans and controversy.

Now, Anchorage wants to unload the land.

In February, the city asked the Anchorage Assembly for approval to rezone the land to a multifamily residential mixed-use district as a precursor for selling it. The rezoning would pave the way for apartments or other high-density housing in the area. There is no buyer or plan for that possible development yet, said Tiffany Briggs, the municipality’s real estate director.

The city could put the property on the market or issue a request for interest to develop it, Briggs said. There is no current buyer, and either sale option would need Assembly approval.

The rezone was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in January. The proposed ordinance will next be discussed at the April 9 Assembly meeting but a work session likely won’t happen until late in the month, said Assembly Chair Chris Constant.

The flat, square lot is near some of Midtown’s most visible public facilities — Loussac Library and Cuddy Family Midtown Park, which features a playground, grass fields, a walking track and a skating oval in the winter. It has long been eyed as a potential site for housing and mixed-use development but has remained empty as Midtown developed around it.


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At times, it’s been at the center of controversy. Twenty years ago, the lot was owned by two high-profile Anchorage developers, Jonathan Rubini and Leonard Hyde. After an effort to rezone from residential to commercial doubled the appraised value of the land, the two sold it to the federal government for $3.5 million, with a plan to build a new National Archives facility on the site. But the project stalled amid an investigation into the connections of politicians who boosted the plan.

A National Archives and Records Administration inquiry into the deal concluded the agency “may have overpaid” for the land but found no wrongdoing. The planned building never materialized; the lot was cleared but has remained empty.

In 2017, the municipality bought the property from the federal government for $4.8 million, according to Briggs.

“The original intent was for the property to be developed for commercial, retail and residential housing needs in the best interests of the MOA,” Briggs said in an email.

Then came the pandemic in 2020, along with major growth in Anchorage’s homeless population. When the Sullivan Arena shelter shut down, unhoused people gravitated to the vacant lot, pitching tents, parking vehicles and constructing semi-permanent looking shelters.

At one point last fall, more than a hundred RVs, vehicles and buses were parked on the land. The settlement has remained through the winter.

Whatever the highest and best use of the land is, it’s clearly not what’s happening there now, said Constant, the Anchorage Assembly chair. The idea has always been to turn the lot — in an area with parks, public services like the library, and plenty of hotels and big box stores — into housing, he said.

“It’s flat,” he said. “It’s developable.”

Constant doesn’t see the camp at the site as the main driver of the city’s desire to unload it. The land is a fiscal drain that’s not making money, he said.

“It would be easy to frame this as they are trying to get rid of a homeless camp,” he said. “The camp inherently doesn’t have a right to sit on that lot. That’s not really the issue for rezoning this.”

Still, “we have to face the reality that people need a place to go,” he said.

Municipal homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson said the area is scheduled to be abated in June because of a permitted concert in the park nearby. It’s not clear what will happen after that. Hundreds of additional people are expected to be camping in Anchorage this summer after winter shelter beds close June 1, she has said.

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The local community council says it welcomes the city’s plan to dispose of and encourage development at the site.

The Cuddy Park camp has caused problems with theft, vandalism and other issues for businesses in the area, and conditions there represent an “unfolding humanitarian crisis,” said Kris Stoehner, the president of the Midtown Community Council.

“We want housing,” said Stoehner. “I think everybody wants housing.”


Felix Rivera, the Anchorage Assembly member who represents Midtown, says he’s generally supportive of the efforts to rezone but doesn’t know enough yet about the future plan for the lot. He too wants to see housing, because it’s one thing that area of Midtown doesn’t have much of.

He’s been hearing about problems related to the homeless camp from neighbors, and says he’s also heard about less use of Cuddy Park amenities such as the playground.

A rezone and a new development could be positive, he said. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.

“Whatever happens, it is going to be a yearslong process,” Rivera said. “Not going to be, by this summer there will be shovels in the ground. It will be a long process.”

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.