Alex Gimarc: High-density living comes to Anchorage?

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By ALEX GIMARC

One of my correspondents sent out a blast e-mail last week, warning about AO 2023-66, a change in Anchorage municipal code relating to zoning of residential districts and waiving planning and zoning commission review process. 

The ordinance was first heard May 23. The Muni press release 5/23/23 can be found here. It says that the ordinance will be heard at the next regular Assembly meeting, July 25.  Whether that happens then or earlier is anyone’s guess.

A major rewrite of Anchorage zoning law during the summer while everyone is out fishing raises a red flag. Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel’s fingerprints on it raises that flag much higher, especially after she has left town for the next month or so.  

The problem comes down to trust. Do we trust this Assembly majority to do the right thing, as in take testimony, address concerns, and modify their proposal as necessary? Or do we trust them to simply shove whatever they want down our throats regardless of what we want them to do just like they have done with the homeless problem, Covid lockdowns, and spending over the last several years? 

Sadly, my dime on them doing what they do best, the cram-down technique.

The press release defines the problem as a housing crisis, with land use restrictions contributing to the issue. Solution in this ordinance? Higher density housing city wide.  A page and a half of WHEREAS clauses fall all over themselves touting the joys of increasing residential density.  

OK, problem stated, and Assembly solution proposed. The problem with this is that they completely ignore the deeper problem, opting instead to deal with the symptom (housing crisis). This is sort of like treating swelling around a broken leg as a problem rather than the broken leg.  

But what is causing the housing crisis? At its most basic, the housing crisis is caused by lack of land to build new homes on in the Anchorage Bowl. This has been a known issue for the last 30 years (or more), and to be expected in a chunk of land bounded by a National Forest and Cook Inlet. Happily, there are several hundred square miles of mostly empty land available right across Cook Inlet at Point Mackenzie available for building.  

How to get to that land? The Knik Arm Bridge, the same bridge Sen. Ted Stevens had funding for in 2008. The same bridge Sarah Palin killed in 2008. The same bridge every single Democrat in this town has opposed for the last two decades.  

The two Assembly members offering the high-density residency as a “solution” completely ignore both the underlying problem and the simple solution, opting instead to blow up planning and zoning rules so that it is easier to cram us all together like rabbits in a warren, bringing all the family unfriendly blue inner-city pathologies here to Anchorage.  Quite the solution, that.

No discussion about why the current planning and zoning system no longer works. No discussion about why the planning and zoning commission review is no longer necessary.  No discussion of any other solutions that don’t involve high density housing. No discussion about the local impact of the nationwide crash in commercial real estate that is working its way north.  

High density housing is what they want. And with this majority, this is what they are going to try to get, property rights of homeowners now irrelevant.  

Bad legislation is proposed to solve a symptom rather than the actual problem, which will work out for homeowners just as well as Assembly efforts to solve the ongoing homeless problem for the last decade. 

Like homelessness, it’s going to be difficult to agree on a solution if you can’t even acknowledge what the actual problem is.  

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and information technology professional.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Imagine living in Alaska for “high density living”. Another marker indicating that these people are nuts.

  2. “Mostly empty land available right across Cook Inlet at Point Mackenzie available for building”.
    I find it interesting that you want the scourge of Anchorage to spill out onto another shore and have the MSB cover the costs. The reason this so-called bridge isn’t viable is because of the costs and use. It was unfeasible back in the 60″s and still is today. The now billions in cost would never be recovered by Alaska. This would be footed to taxpayers who already are overtaxed for the little infrastructure that exists. Don’t spread your problems across to another location when people ae trying to get away from it. You made the mess you fix it!

    • Disagree. Infrastructure is ALWAYS viable, especially in a state with the fewest road miles per square mile in the nation. Economics has always supported the bridge, and one across Turnagain Arm too.

      While I sympathize with the fix your own mess perspective, a longer view would be the very real problem of a growing blue city in your own backyard. Every single blue state is anchored by a blue city that has been governed by democrats for decades. Those blue cities dragged entire stated blue with them, overwhelming voters in other parts of the state. Over time that festering blue carbuncle on the body politic spreads its evil, flipping the state. That process is under way here in AK, especially over the last 6 years here in ANC. Those of us here in ANC are fighting it as well (or as poorly depending on your perspective) as we can.

      The old Trotsky observation that “you might not be interested in war, war is interested in you” is applicable. Let this rot spread too far and you are next up to bat. Be careful adopting a hands off, not my job, worldview, for the left is coming for you too. Cheers –

  3. It’s almost like the Politburo is in a race with Portland to see who can destroy a community first.

    That giant sucking sound you hear is Anchorage swirling down the drain.

  4. And, I wonder how many of the parcels are within a short distance of any of the Assembly members homes?

  5. Clearly no one in Anchorage cares about this or anything else, since barely 20% of the population can be troubled to vote.

  6. There is no such thing as a “homeowner”. “Residential” does not mean private. The State/STATE owns everything. Senate Document #43, SENATE RESOLUTION 62 (page 9) of April 17, 1933 states very clearly that “The ultimate ownership of all property is in the State; individual so-called “ownership” is only by virtue of Government, …”. We have been living under a modern feudal system for a very long time now.

  7. The Knik Arm Crossing is a pretty heavy lift but 30 years from now it will have paid pretty big dividends. These sort of projects foster growth and prosperity. We have a smaller version here in Juneau we hope to build to serve the same needs. Let’s hope the CAVE people ( citizens against vitually everything) don’t prevail.

    • Dave, I recall my father coming home from a Chamber of Commerce meeting in 1965 or ’66, talking about the Bridge across Knik Arm from Anchorage. Lots of Tide Changes since that day to this and still no Bridge. Personally I hope it never gets built, that area across from Anchorage is pristine, dotted with Farms and a HUGE prison. Knik Arm is a bottomless pit of liquid silt. Anchorage can figure out its future without turning Pt. MacKenzie into another Mt. View.

      I say use infrastructure money to build the Ambler Road, a Road to McGrath and a Railline to Nome. Develop our resources to provide wealth for the residents of Alaska.

  8. Give Anchorage 10 years. Then Cook Inlet gas will have run dry and Anchorage will no longer be heated or electrified. Most people will flee. They will leave their doors unlocked and the keys on the kitchen counter. Plenty of (cold and dark) housing then.

  9. We all need to read this dreadful bill. It is just the first step towards their ultimate (undisclosed) goal. It gives NO particulars about what, exactly, they intend for any minimum lot size and housing density. This bill scraps all present residential zoning districts, like R-1, R-8-(4acres per lot) R-10 (1.25 acres per lot), etc.
    It replaces all those carefully crafted zoning districts with just “residential” with city utilities and “residential” without city utilities (I.e., well and septic systems).
    Plus it has ALL the usual “wokeisms” like “inclusive” and “equity” in the absurd word salad that passes for the “whereas” statements.
    Please explain how increasing housing density, with clapboard new houses crammed one on top of another, will promote “a sense of community” in “vibrant, growing neighborhoods.”
    Finally, recent changes to Title 21 (land uses) almost doubled our housing capacity, by allowing a second unit, or even a second separate house, as an “accessory dwelling unit,” on most lots in Anchorage.
    This bill is a solution in search of a problem. It should be renamed the “builder enrichment act,” since the usual greedy local developers are the only real beneficiaries, here.

    • They just want to rebuild Seattle in Anchorage. Then run it down accordingly with Alaskan men holding hands and skipping together to the coffee shop unfortunately. This is not appealing to people who are here already and love our city just the way it is. We don’t mind the neighborhoods. They look nice to us. We are proud of them because we can afford them. They are in our budget just the way they are without emenities retrofitted that we don’t want ; don’t need; don’t like. If the assembly doesn’t like our unfriendly neighborhoods the assembly members can go away instead. That would be the nicest, least aggressive thing to do. If you on the assembly don’t like amenitieless neighborhoods; get lost. THANK YOU.

  10. oh-oh I can foresee another large Alaskan Earthquake coming(Heaven forbid).At some point, they’ve forgotten Anchorage will sooner or later get another “shake”. ust about the time they get all their ideas together.. all their building codes are going to sink into a hole larger then they can imagine. Will they be able to rebuild Anchorage with all their “top heavy” housing.

  11. This is what member constant had his fit of rage against, so now mrak agrees with him after laughing at his anger. I’d personally prefer staying closer to the ground level, I am Alaskan and am used to this life. Some people don’t mind the penthouses. I think it won’t make any difference if policies don’t change that currently makes living on Alaska so expensive for the average earner. If you have a 800,000-1,000,000 dollar condominium then which Alaskans going to live in it, when We aren’t Floridians or New Yorkers like meg. Most Alaskans are rugged like our independence and open spaces. I’d much rather see some of these single apartment and four plex complexes turned into a condo for home ownership me being a single mother Just wanting and only needing a small quiet space still affordable for me and my child to call home until Christ returns or we die and go to him.

  12. The Knik Arm bridge can be built for free. Take the money being spent to improve the Port of Anchorage well over a billion dollars and build the bridge. Expand the Port of Anchorage at Point Mackenzie where you have a 61 foot deep port and not a 39 foot deep Anchorage port that costs multi millions to dredge each year. Anchorage can not accommodate larger ships that go through the Panama Canal like Port Mackenzie can. Tens of millions lost yearly unloading big ships and reloading smaller Anchorage port friendly ships . Further loss of shipping time and Seamen’s wages for all Anchorage ships as they delay or Waite for higher tides to get in and out of Anchorage in the millions. The Point Mackenzie bridge costs you nothing and saves you millions. The square foot cost of new housing in a high rise is double the cost on a lovely 1 acre lot and house across the inlet. There is no rational argument to ruin the Alaska dream of space to call one’s own. That’s why we all came here.

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