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Anchorage’s new accessory dwelling ordinance makes some big changes in housing rules

After months of discussion among community planners, builders, developers, community councils and involved citizens, the Anchorage Assembly finally voted earlier this month to approve significant amendments to the municipal code for accessory dwelling units (also known as ADUs). One of the goals of the amended ordinance is to "allow more efficient use of residential property." According to the ordinance, the changes  "ensure that accessory dwelling units are compatible with the desired character of Anchorage's residential neighborhoods and to create more affordable housing alternatives."

Contrary to the prior ADU ordinance, which only allowed ADUs on lots 20,000 square feet or larger,  ADUs are now allowed in all the residential zoning districts. However,  in the R-1 and R1-A A single family districts, they are allowed only if added to or created within a detached single family dwelling. The lot coverage of the principal dwelling unit, including the ADU must still conform to the maximum lot coverage allowed within the R-1 and R- 1A zone. Other conditions include the landowner must reside in either the principal dwelling unit or the ADU as his or her primary residence for more than six months of the year. The gross floor area of the ADU, not including any related garage, shall be no less 300 square feet and the ADU shall have no more than two bedrooms. Additional restrictions include parking limitations and design requirements.

The Anchorage Assembly should be applauded for its attempt to create more affordable housing, but the ADU ordinance presents several problems in both enforcement and potential negative changes to established single family communities. Currently, the MOA barely has adequate staff to investigate and enforce  complaints on health and safety issues. Who or what municipal department is actually going to monitor this occupancy requirement?

Multiple cities across the nation have  an affordable housing shortage and there is no argument that Anchorage is one of those cities.  However,  this ordinance is at the expense of the single family character of many of Anchorage's long established neighborhoods. The city recognized this conflict when it stated in the ordinance that "to ensure that the dwellings meet the appropriate health and fire safety standards, the ADU shall be built to the adopted municipal code standards for two-family dwellings." As written, this ordinance is actually a de-factor zoning change with the capability of creating attached and higher density dwellings contrary  to what was the original intent of the development of the existing neighborhood. The response to this concern has been 'not that many will actually be built' is not justification for the rezone under the guise of providing more affordable housing opportunities. This ordinance is a blanket rezone from single family to low density multiple family across the municipality.

Neighborhoods with a homeowner's association should look carefully at their covenants, codes and restrictions to see if they address ADU's. If they do not, the board of directors should put this new ordinance on the agenda for discussion at the next annual meeting. If you live in a neighborhood without covenants, codes and restrictions, you should contact your local community council to voice your concern.

Connie Yoshimura is owner/broker of Dwell Realty and has been involved in residential real estate in Anchorage for more than 30 years. She's the former chair of the city Planning and Zoning Commission.