Anchorage Assembly Passes Title 21

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

After a decade of review, the Anchorage Assembly passed Title 21 Tuesday night.

Several versions of the Assembly have been revising Title 21, or Anchorage land-use law, for about 10 years. At their regular meeting Tuesday night the current assembly finally approved it, with more than 150 amendments. One major revision was the elimination of all commercial design standards, with an exception for big box stores. Assembly member Bill Starr spoke in support of the amendment.

“And if buildings become ugly, unsafe, unusable, too icy, to slippery, I think tenants won’t move into them. That’s the other motivation there, let the free market do it’s work. I’m gonna support the deletion of this small section and I think the industry can police itself,” Starr said.

The amendment was submitted by Assembly member Chris Birch. It passed 6-5. The design standards that were deleted called for windows that are visible from streets, clear entryways and easier pedestrian access. Municipal planners were in favor of them. Besides Trombley and Birch, Assembly members Bill Starr, Cheryl Frasca, Ernie Hall and Jennifer Johnston voted in favor of the amendment. The Title 21 process began back in the early 2000s and included a chance for the public could weight in on how they wanted the city to grow and develop. It was linked to the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan, Anchorage 2020, which was meant to serve as a blueprint for 20 years. When Mayor Dan Sullivan came into office he began a review Title 21, using consultants. Critics say the process was directed away from the goals of 2020 and ended up being taken over by special interests.

Another major change was the decision to allow mother-in-law apartments on single family residential lots. Ossiander proposed the amendment. Gray-Jackson spoke out against it.

“This is a real big change and we really need more public discussion on this issue. And to go ahead and approve this amendment right now, I think, disenfranchises our community and I think it’s just simply not fair,” Gray-Jackson said.

The amendment passed 8-3.

Assembly member Patrick Flynn proposed amendments that would have limited invasive plants and trees, but they were shot down. He also proposed an amendment that would have made stream setbacks 50 feet versus 25. Ossiander was concerned that municipal stream-mapping was poor. She said she wanted to wait six months for a study to come out that would provide more information. That didn’t fly with Flynn.

“Jumpin’ Jimminy Cricket on a Pogo stick. We have been working on this for 10 years! Now we want six more months. Please, as much fun as this is, let’s just be done with it,” Flynn said.

There was a an exception for existing homes that were built closer to streams. The amendments was voted down 7-4 with Flynn, Traini, Honeman and Gray-Jackson voting in support of larger setbacks.

Another big issue was lighting. Assembly member Johnston proposed an amendment that allowed lower lighting on some streets in more rural areas. The assembly passed it. Then Mayor Sullivan vetoed it. Some assembly members said lower lighting was more appropriate in rural areas, despite the concerns of attorneys. The Assembly overrode the mayor 8-3, with Traini, Honeman and Gray-Jackson supporting the Mayor.

There was also a push by Trombley for to allow electronic signs to flash messages every two seconds instead of every 20 seconds, but it was voted down.

Former Assembly member and previous Planning Director, Dr. Sheila Selkregg, says the Title 21 passed Tuesday night has taken a U-turn away from the direction of Anchorage 2020. The deletion of commercials design standards, in particular, she says, will have dire consequences for the look and feel of the city.

“It means you can pretty much build any kind of design you want on a building. It can be as ugly and and as cheap as possible and you don’t have to meet any expectations.”

Selkregg says she’s disappointed that the Assembly didn’t listen to the public who turned out in numbers to recent public testimony to ask for a return to a provisionally adopted version of Title 21. She says the passage of the amended version can be attributed to one source.

“Big business owners, big property owners, BOMA, who don’t want to pay taxes, they don’t want to be told what to do — they really want to be able to do anything that they want in this town. They’re demonstrating that they’ve really put energy into political candidates and it’s paying off for them. And I think if the public wants something different, they need to get engaged and elect people that expresses their interests,” Selkregg said.

In the end the Assembly passed Title 21, 9 to 2, with Trombly and Flynn the only nay votes.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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