INSIDE REAL ESTATE: Anchorage’s mixed-use rules reflect mixed-up priorities

During the 10 years of negotiation and conflict over the new Title 21 land use regulations which finally became ordinance in January 2016, the Municipality of Anchorage planning department held firm on their vision of encouraging mixed-use development by creating new zoning categories as one avenue to solving Anchorage’s housing shortage.

However, what works on paper and theory isn’t necessarily financially feasible in reality. In other words, mixed-use in Anchorage has yet to be “ground tested” on new, non-subsidized, vertically-integrated projects.

Traditionally, mixed-use development has been developed as vertical construction with retail and offices on the ground and lower level floors and residences above. The best local example of this is the Petersen Towers that has retail on the first floor, several floors of offices above, and three top floors — each with six units — of luxury condos.

At the time it was built in the early 1980s, Petersen Towers was a ground-breaking building with unobstructed inlet and mountain views. Since then, to my knowledge, there has been no vertical mixed-use development on that scale, although small, older buildings with grandfathered rights have seen some mixed-use conversions.

Fire Island Bakery in South Addition shares space in a building with apartments and offices. Celestial Sweets on Spenard Road is located on a ground floor in a small building with apartments above it. Some older two-story buildings in the downtown corridor also have a handful of apartments above their retail space.

New mixed-use developments include Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s projects in Mountain View and plans for a larger, mixed-use development on Spenard Road. The popular Rustic Goat restaurant on Northern Lights is considered a mixed-use project with detached apartments located on the back alley.

These small mixed-use developments fit in well with local neighborhoods and contribute to economic and social diversity. However, higher density development as advocated by the MOA has many issues. According to Seth G. Weissman, a real estate attorney presenting to the Georgia Planning Association, “mixed-use works best in highly urbanized areas where the project (particularly the retail) can be woven into the fabric of an existing urban center. Mixed-use cannot survive without the density to support it.”

Weissman goes on to explain that the residential housing component in mixed-use works best as a high quality rental product but still must be surrounded by density and local government contributions for alleyways, parks, and other destination amenities.

Anchorage’s housing shortage is now a well-recognized and much-discussed fact. We are short hundreds of housing units. The solution, however, is not in high density vertical mixed-use where talk is cheap and construction is over $350 per square foot. Rather, the MOA should look at ways to encourage more affordable housing such as a small lot ordinance or low density neighborhood mixed-use through the use of variances and overlay districts.

Connie Yoshimura is the broker/owner of Dwell Realty. Contact her at 907-646-3670 or [email protected].

Updated: 
03/02/2016 - 2:53pm

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