Anchorage Assembly narrowly approves zoning initiative allowing duplexes in single-family areas

The Anchorage Assembly in a 7-5 vote late Tuesday approved a hotly debated change to zoning that broadly expands where duplexes can be built.

The HOME Initiative, for “Housing Opportunities in the Municipality for Everyone,” essentially eliminates single-family zoning in much of Anchorage.

The legislation allows two-unit structures to be built in zones that have traditionally restricted residences to single-family. An exception for one type of low-density zone means an administrative site plan review from the city will be required before a duplex can be built.

Tuesday’s measure doesn’t apply to Girdwood and Eagle River.

City rules for dimensional standards, such as setbacks, minimum lot sizes and building heights, are unchanged.

The ordinance also redefines duplexes in city code. Instead of restricting a duplex to one structure with separate living spaces that share a wall, the change allows the two living units to be in detached structures on larger lots that can support it.

Tuesday’s legislation comes as the city faces an acute housing shortage, with rents and home prices skyrocketing in recent years. The measure’s sponsors — Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel and members Anna Brawley and Daniel Volland — say the measure will help add housing.


“It creates real possibilities for the residents of Anchorage to work on the housing crisis themselves,” Zaletel said.

Those who own single-family homes will be now able to convert their residences into a duplex, she said. For local builders, a project to build duplexes in formerly single-family zones may pencil out, where building more expensive houses wouldn’t, she said.

Tuesday’s legislation is the latest in a series of changes the Assembly has made in an attempt to spur housing development. The changes have included removing off-street parking requirements for new developments and loosening rules to allow more construction of triplexes and fourplexes.

Early last year, the Assembly voted to expand where accessory dwelling units, often called in-law units and backyard cottages, are allowed. They can now be built on any parcel with a dwelling unit, including single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and apartment complexes.

Numerous cities across the Lower 48 have similarly reformed zoning laws in recent years to address housing shortages and high rents.

The sponsors initially proposed a larger set of sweeping zoning changes last fall, seeking to loosen development requirements in the Anchorage Bowl by shrinking 15 residential zones to five. The idea sparked vocal opposition from some community councils and residents, and the sponsors eventually whittled down the measure to focus only on allowing duplexes in more areas of the city.

Residents opposed to the changes have said they’re concerned the measure would add density to areas that don’t have infrastructure to support it, changing the character of neighborhoods. It could cause problems with increased on-street parking, traffic, drainage, emergency egress and utilities, they’ve said.

On Tuesday night, Members Karen Bronga and Zac Johnson said they’re worried about adding density to areas of the city already at a high wildfire risk and that have limited access routes, such as in areas of Hillside and the Basher neighborhood.

To help address that, Assembly members added a requirement for an administrative site plan review for any duplexes proposed in R-10 zoning, a low-density, large-lot area.

During a lengthy debate on the ordinance, several members expressed reservations about making such a broad change.

“My strongest objection to this is the need to make a more surgical approach to zoning ... versus sweeping changes,” Sulte said. “Not that I don’t believe in the goal. However, I want to avoid unforeseen outcomes that will affect us in 10, 20 years from now, and that will be irreversible at that time.”

Zaletel and other members argued that the legislation is not “radical or drastic.”

“There are approximately 71,000 residential parcels in Anchorage. Even if 500 building permits were pulled — nearly double last year’s total permits issued — that would only be 1% of the lots,” she said.

More than three dozen residents testified on Tuesday.

Matt Fink said he opposed the measure, concerned about additional density in some neighborhoods. In order to charge high rents and boost property values, investors could buy and then convert houses into duplexes and add ADUs, essentially turning properties into triplexes, he said.

The ordinance “kills the American dream” of single-family home ownership, he said.

“All of a sudden, what you saved for and worked for to get is basically now hey, we’re gonna have three people to the right of you, three people to left of you, and it changes the whole character of the neighborhood,” Fink said.


Many other residents disagreed, and more than two-thirds of those speaking on Tuesday urged the Assembly to approve the measure. Many told stories of struggling to find a home to rent or buy, or of their loved ones moving away because of housing costs and scarcity.

“I’m the father of the middle schooler and a high schooler and I’m here tonight because I’m tired of those who don’t care whether our kids will have a place that is affordable to live in Anchorage. I’m tired of them dominating this conversation,” said Jason Norris, a longtime resident.

“The clock is ticking. If my kids graduated college today, they couldn’t stay,” he added.

Norris and several other residents said the measure won’t do enough to incentivize housing development and called for the Assembly to legalize tri- and fourplexes throughout residential zones.

“We need bold action to solve a big problem. And our housing crisis is most definitely a big problem,” Norris said.

North Star resident Brandy Bowmaster said she resorted to putting notes on doors of units that looked empty after finding a nightmare of exorbitant rates in the rental market and being outbid by other prospective tenants who offered more than the asking rate.

“The market is really hard right now and a lot of people are struggling to keep up. Something has to give,” she said.

An Assembly supermajority of at least eight votes is required to override a mayoral veto. If Mayor Dave Bronson vetoes the measure, or if Mayor-elect Suzanne LaFrance vetoes it after taking office on Monday, an Assembly member would need to change their vote to override a veto.


Assembly members George Martinez, Scott Myers, Mark Littlefield, Johnson and Sulte voted against the HOME Initiative. Voting in favor were Assembly Chair Christopher Constant, Vice Chair Zaletel and members Anna Brawley, Karen Bronga, Kameron Perez-Verdia, Felix Rivera, and Daniel Volland.

Also on Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously approved a resolution that calls for the mayoral administration to begin a targeted review of Anchorage’s documents governing land use: the city’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan and the 2040 Land Use Plan.

“This resolution says we need to update our plan, but we also need to update our community’s understanding about what our housing problems are, why we’ve been unable to achieve the goals set out in our plans over a decade ago, even all the way back to the 1980s,” Brawley said.

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