Housing both affordable and trendy snapped up in Anchorage

  • Work proceeds on a $10-million affordable housing project by Cook Inlet Housing Authority at 36th Avenue and Spenard Road in Anchorage. Located at the site of an old strip club, the project will have 33 one-bedroom units ranging from subsidized to market rates for rent. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)
  • This rendering from The Peterson Group shows the balcony views from the Downtown Edge development at Ship Creek that has already reserved 20 out of 21 units in the first phase of the project. (Rendering/Courtesy/The Peterson Group)

Key Anchorage building projects underway this summer add more than 100 units to residential availability and inject a nouveau mix of retail space for town segments in sore need of beautification.

A glimpse at high market demand shows itself in the proposed Downtown Edge project sited above Ship Creek’s warehouse district and just below Second Avenue and Christensen Drive.

Before a shovel of dirt or a layer of brick, there is only one “unreserved” unit left at the Downtown Edge development. That’s out of the first phase’s 21 townhouse style condos, according to Trevor Edmondson, vice president and general manager for The Petersen Group, the contractor and a partner in Ship Creek Development LLC.

“We’ve used the reservation system for other projects, but it hasn’t been successful to this extent,” Edmondson said.

Location is the primary driver: the views of Sleeping Lady, Cook Inlet and access to the buffet of a downtown lifestyle.

A second phase of seven more units won’t be built until later in the 18- to 24-month first phase, Edmondson said. Units will be two or three stories each and come at a price tag that starts at $400,000.

The same market demand occurred in a new affordable housing project at 36th Avenue and Spenard where the Petersen Group also acted as contractor. The 33 affordable housing units opened May 31 for applicants. Move-in is set for sometime in September.

Forty-seven people came through to apply in the first days available to apply after May 31, said Cook Inlet Housing Authority spokesperson Sezy Gerow-Hanson.Many will be eligible for a rent subsidy.

CIHA owns part of the block adjoining the derelict PJs Strip Club. Like much of old Spenard, PJs had defined a long-gone era of pipeline-building wild lifestyles. CIHA acquired the land in auction five years ago after U.S. Marshalls seized it as the site of a large drug operation.

Doors are opened for Anchorage to see more housing in new construction, said Christopher Schutte, the director of the Anchorage Office of Economic and Community Development. He cites a unique partnership between the Municipality and the Rasmuson Foundation for the impetus that should place more such housing projects on the market.

Partly in response to criticism that Anchorage hasn’t been friendly to new construction, leveled by, among others, Rasmuson Executive Director Diane Kaplan, the city recently created a chief housing officer position to facilitate increased construction of residential housing units.

The position is funded for an initial two years by Rasmuson and will serve as a primary liaison between the municipality and private sector housing developers. Robin Ward, current director of Real Estate Services, was appointed in March by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to fill the position.

Her tasks include identifying barriers to housing production in the Anchorage Bowl and then creating achievable solutions, incentives, initiatives, and implementation strategies.

A second move by the Anchorage Assembly created a new tool for developers or homebuilders to deliver more affordable housing.

Unit Lot Subdivision now allows a property owner to divide an existing residential lot into smaller unit lots for fee simple ownership, but does not allow any increase in density under the current zoning of the parent lot or any changes to the development standards of the parent lot, Schutte said.

“It’s a great tool that other cities have used to allow smaller, more affordable housing development in a way that is easier to finance than building townhomes or condos,” Schutte said.

The new owners get deed to the land as well as their own building, unlike traditional townhouses or condos where residents do not own the land.

Here are other developments for summer 2017:

The Rail

The Alaska Railroad Corp. and its partners will break ground soon on a mixed-use development called The Rail, intended to be the first phase of a larger redevelopment effort. The project is on 11 acres of railroad-owned land near Ship Creek that will eventually bring retail, restaurants, other housing and event space there as well.

3600 Spenard

This $10-million project is nearly completed on what used to be an asphalt parking lot and the old PJs strip club at the corner of 36th Avenue and Spenard Road. Cook Inlet Housing Authority, an Anchorage-based nonprofit that promotes affordable housing, is constructing three-story building that will mix residences and retail.

There’s 900 square feet of commercial space still open for one retailer on the ground floor; the other two units will be used as Cook Inlet Housing Lease Office.

The 33 one-bedroom apartments will be spread out through the three floors, priced at both subsidized ($785 or $880 per month) and market rates ($1,250.) The apartment amenities include washers/dryers, shared second floor “roof top” deck, private balconies and close proximity to public transportation.

The building will also feature photo voltaic and geothermal alternative energy systems to supplement traditional gas and electric.

Elizabeth Place Housing Development

The municipality issued a Request for Proposal for development proposals for three lots the city owns in downtown Anchorage at 7th Avenue between I and K Streets. The RFP asked for creative proposals to redevelop the land in a manner that is consistent with the goals of the “Anchorage 2020” Anchorage Bowl Comprehensive Plan and the Anchorage Downtown Comprehensive Plan and that provides the highest and best use of the site.

“We received three proposals on the land and selected Cook Inlet Housing Authority through the competitive RFP process with its proposal for a trendy apartment building with street-level stores and a rooftop patio,” Schutte said.

At five stories, the mixed-use development will include 40 one-bedroom apartment units, priced at both market and subsidized rates, and ground floor retail space.

“This project is exciting because it is the first new residential development in Downtown Anchorage since 2006,” he said.

Unit Lot Subdivisions

“While not a ‘project’ per se, this is an exciting community development initiative that we recently passed at the Anchorage Assembly that created a new tool for developers or homebuilders to deliver more affordable housing,” Schutte said.

“Unit Lot Subdivision” allows a property owner to divide an existing residential lot into smaller unit lots for fee simple ownership, but does not allow any increase in density under the current zoning of the parent lot or any changes to the development standards of the parent lot,” Schutte said.

This means that someone in South Addition who owns a 7,000 square foot lot that is currently zoned R-2A could subdivide that lot into smaller units and build townhouses that could be purchased fee simple.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

06/07/2017 - 2:01pm