Anchorage Assembly members dial back housing initiative, focus on encouraging duplexes

Three Anchorage Assembly members who proposed an overhaul of city zoning have tossed out most of that plan and are instead pushing forward with one simpler — but broad — change: to eliminate single-family zoning throughout the Anchorage Bowl.

If the proposal is approved by a majority of the Assembly at the June 25 meeting, duplexes would be allowed in all zones that currently allow only single-family houses. It would not apply to Girdwood and Eagle River.

The measure would also redefine duplexes in city code. Rather than allowing one structure with separate living spaces that share a wall, the city would also allow the two living units to be in detached structures on larger lots that can support it.

Members Anna Brawley, Daniel Volland and Vice Chair Meg Zaletel on Monday afternoon announced the latest version of the HOME Initiative, or “Housing Opportunities in the Municipality for Everyone,” which they first proposed last fall.

The latest revision follows previous versions and drafts that have been the subject of intense debate and pushback from some residents.

The city is experiencing an acute housing shortfall, leading to a spike in rent and housing prices and driving away residents, adding to the municipality’s long population decline and worker shortage, the members said. To help alleviate the issues, they previously sought to loosen development requirements in the Anchorage Bowl by shrinking 15 residential zones to five.

But critics said the proposal could increase density, building heights, traffic and street parking in areas of the city that aren’t prepared for it. Others said the proposals would not do enough to create more dwellings and more affordable housing in Anchorage. Still, others felt the legislation was too complex, making too many changes in one measure, leaving it difficult to understand the full scope, Volland said.


“We thought, ‘OK, if the community is not ready for this — or at least some parts of the community are not ready for this — what are ways we can still have an impact?’ ” Brawley said.

The latest version takes into account much of the community input over the last year and advances a piece of the initiative that had the most positive feedback, Volland and Brawley said.

The city early last year expanded where accessory dwelling units can be built. Often called in-law units and backyard cottages, ADUs are now allowed on any parcel of land with a dwelling unit, including duplexes, triplexes and apartment complexes.

That means residential lots currently zoned as single-family could have three separate living units if the HOME Initiative is approved next week, Volland said. It also opens up the potential for existing single-family homes to be converted into two units, he said.

“There’s a brilliance in simplicity,” Zaletel said of the scaled-back version in a prepared statement. “By making two simple changes — permitting up to three units (two primary and one accessory) by-right where one unit currently exists and allowing dwelling units to be multiple structures — we provide flexibility in current code that empowers more housing.”

Volland also noted that the measure no longer would change dimensional standards such as setbacks, minimum lot sizes or building heights.

“Folks will still be constrained by existing code ... but provided they have enough space to do it, we could have those three units,” he said.

Continued criticism

For one outspoken opponent of the measure, the revisions don’t alleviate her concerns.

“It essentially triples” the allowed density, said Dianne Holmes, a longtime Anchorage resident.

And it would do so “all over the municipality, helter-skelter, whether there’s infrastructure in place to support it or not,” Holmes said.

Holmes sees it as “trashing the neighborhood and district plans that we all put so much work into,” she said.

Additionally, Anchorage’s 2040 Land Use Plan already identifies parts of the city that should have higher densities, she said. She wants to see more housing built, she added.

“No one has been able to answer the question: Why aren’t the builders building there?” Holmes said. “We need to settle that, because we can change all the zoning we want, but if developers aren’t going to, or homeowners aren’t going to, build more, what are we gaining?”

She and other community members, including the University Area Community Council in a resolution, say the city hasn’t shown with data that the current zoning is hindering new housing construction. Rogers Park and Rabbit Creek councils also passed resolutions opposing the HOME Initiative.

The measure’s sponsors say that the city must act swiftly to address the housing crisis.

Brawley expressed frustration over repeated opposition to the proposal and other recent proposed land use changes.

“It kind of feels like no matter what you try to change, it’s gonna be this kind of level of controversy or conflict. And so, I think the question to the community, whether or not this passes, is, ‘What are we willing to do and how fast can we do it?” Brawley said.


‘It will help’

The city’s planning department, in a March memo on the initiative, acknowledged that the share of land zoned for single-family only is mismatched to Anchorage’s needs.

Two-thirds of the residential land supply is swallowed by single-family zoning or large-lot, low-density zoning, such as on the Hillside.

Meanwhile, household sizes are declining and residents need smaller, more affordable homes — the “missing middle” housing, like duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, the department said. Reforming single-family zoning could allow help relieve a land-supply deficit, the department said.

However, the department warned that eliminating all single-family zoning in the Anchorage Bowl, without exception, could increase density and population in “areas with natural hazards, critical or sensitive environmental functions, or inadequate transportation infrastructure or utilities.”

Local developers say housing and development challenges extend far beyond what the proposal would address, including rising costs of materials, labor, cumbersome city regulations and lack of public investment.

Local builder Andre Spinelli said that Anchorage’s land use law, known as Title 21 in city code, has been making housing more expensive to build and buy since it was implemented. The rewrite of land use code was approved in 2013 after 10 years of work on the issue.

He saw potential in the Assembly’s new proposal.

“Allowing duplexes in what was traditionally single-family zoning, that’s the biggest single thing that anyone could do for housing,” said Spinelli, who is also the chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.


As a developer, Spinelli said that he’s “hesitant to lobby” for specific legislation.

“But it will help and it will make things more affordable and will allow for more housing units in the future,” he added.

Whether very much more housing would be built in single-family areas depends on numerous other factors, like market demand and whether a project pencils out, he said.

“The city needs to have a come to Jesus moment where it decides if it actually wants to make housing more affordable,” Spinelli said.

‘What are we trying to do?’

Over the last few years, the Assembly has taken other measures to boost homebuilding.

The changes have included removing off-street parking requirements for new developments. The city also loosened rules to allow more construction of triplexes, fourplexes and accessory dwelling units.

Tyler Robinson, Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s vice president of community development, planning and real estate, applauded the Assembly members’ effort to simplify the HOME Initiative and set a clear policy intent.

But other issues remain. For example, another complicated measure has resulted in unforeseen consequences, and muddied the city’s efforts to boost development, Robinson said.

Approved late last year, it changed various standards and limits on vehicle access to homes, garages, sidewalks and setbacks has seriously hindered higher-density residential development like apartments, he said. Robinson and other builders are lobbying for the city to roll the measure back.

“I think that we, overall as a community, have been a little bit just sort of scattered in terms of, what is the overall plan? What are we trying to do?” Robinson said. “We sit here and say we want to open up areas to make it easier to build small multifamily. And on the flip side, we pass legislation that actually makes it extremely hard to do multifamily housing.”

“The vast majority of development that Cook Inlet Housing has built within the past 15 years would not be able to be built today,” he added.

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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