OPINION: Anchorage needs all types of housing. We need to get out of our own way

A little-known Anchorage ordinance that took effect in January has held up numerous housing and construction projects at a time when our city can’t afford it.

The changes? New, strict limits on vehicle access to homes and the size and orientation of garages across Anchorage. It sparked confusion, added cost and hampered projects ranging from single-family homes to a Midtown retail garage condo project. Few saw these big changes coming. The rules were buried last year in a complicated, 50-plus-page “parking and site access” ordinance that even experts struggled to understand.

As a result, Anchorage has adopted new barriers to housing development when many in the community are looking for more homes and attainable prices.

Visions of Anchorage as a walkable community drove these changes. We may share that vision in the long term. We do not think this is how we get there. Absent coordinated public investment and priorities to enhance streets, build sidewalks, increase public transportation, and proactively manage public rights-of-way, these new rules burden everyone’s access to housing, from single-family homes to large apartment buildings. We can’t regulate our way out of our infrastructure problems. While the Anchorage Assembly has taken some steps in recent months to roll the changes back, we ask for a more holistic action.

As builders of Anchorage homes and apartments, we propose measures that balance walkability concerns and protections for traditional neighborhoods with the realities of our need to produce housing. We are asking the Assembly and mayor to immediately act on the following:

• Delete and simplify standards for “pedestrian frontages,” as well as a complex and little-used menu for pedestrian amenities. The frontage standards were not adequately tested for residential or commercial development.

• Retain alley access requirements for more traditional areas with alleys, such as South Addition, Government Hill and Fairview. In cases where topography or lack of alley improvements make access impractical, allow projects to advance with longstanding limitations on driveway widths.


Beyond this immediate fix, it’s now been 10 years since Anchorage overhauled Title 21, our zoning and land use code. We think it’s time for a serious evaluation of design rules. These extensive and often byzantine rules affect housing far more than any other development type, adding costs and impacts to buyers and renters with questionable public benefit. We support simple, clear, and rational standards. We call for testing rules in advance, clear visuals, and language that all residents can understand.

We come forward as Anchorage faces increasingly serious housing supply challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed up demand and greatly reduced supply. Anchorage’s average home price rose to more than $450,000, an increase of more than $100,000 since 2019. Rents have also risen by double percentage points.

Meanwhile, housing construction activity dropped off in 2015 and reached new lows in 2023. It is more expensive and challenging than ever to build housing in Anchorage. By and large, the people and organizations that build housing in this town also live in this town. We are small- to mid-sized local businesses and nonprofits. We are employers, just like local restaurants and retailers. And yes, our livelihoods are linked to cycles of development and re-development. In a market economy, this is how housing gets built at scale — by experts, with safety and quality at the forefront. Anchorage’s future relies on investment and growth. We need more housing, of all types.

Other efforts are afoot to boost housing supply by simplifying zoning rules. We think the design barriers described here deserve crucial and immediate attention. We look forward to working with the mayor and Assembly on this issue.

Tyler Robinson (Cook Inlet Housing), Carol Gore (Weidner Apartment Homes), Andre Spinelli (Spinelli Homes), Shaun Debenham (Debenham LLC), Seth Andersen (Arete, LLC), Eric Visser (Visser Construction), J. Jay Brooks (Fischer Properties) and Brandon Marcott (Triad Engineering LLC) are a group of professionals working in residential building in Anchorage.

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