Working its way through the public process is a new land use concept which if passed by the Anchorage Assembly would allow for fee simple ownership of attached or detached homes on multi-family zoned land. Already vetted and passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Platting Board, Assembly approval is the final step in what should help to by-pass the cumbersome financing requirements for condos. This new form of multi-family development on fee simple land should reduce financing costs for buyers and carrying costs for builders as they wait for sales in order to qualify for VA and FHA financing approval. Both VA and FHA approvals require a certain number of sales before project approval can be granted. FHA and VA financing is the most affordable mortgage financing for first time home buyers because they require minimum down payments.    

Shepherded through the public approval process by Seth Anderson, a local mechanical engineer and advocate for small multi-family development, this new land use ordinance is a good first step in creating more new housing opportunities, particularly for infill development in mid-town and downtown Anchorage. One concern and objection to the proposal harkens back to the 1980’s zero lot line ordinance which was allowed to sunset in the late 1980’s. At that time, most attached fee simple home communities had no covenants, codes and restrictions and even if they did no homeowner’s association to enforce them which is why you can still see these buildings where one side is painted green and their attached neighbor blue or any color of the owner’s choice. As a result, these homes have not maintained their value as well as communities where there is some attention paid to landscaping and covenants. The proposed small unit lot ordinance takes care of this concern by requiring a homeowner’s association. It is, therefore, like many condo communities which will require a board of directors. HOA fees will be similar but less, depending on shared or non-shared expenses for utilities, roads, driveways and common areas.  

In essence, the ordinance decreases minimum lot sizes and side yard setbacks to allow for creative townhome developments. It also maintains the underlying zoning density but a developer is not required to maintain that density. Parking requirements need to be met but not necessarily on the lot being developed. I applaud the efforts put forward by the AEDC and other organizations and individuals who have spent countless pro bono hours to bring the Unit/Small Lot Subdivision ordinance to its final step for approval. The Anchorage Assembly and the mayor should whole heartedly support this effort.  What should come next is a small lot ordinance for fee simple single family subdivisions. Current zoning requirements restrict the R1 zone to 6,000 square feet for a lot. Although that may seem small to some people, other innovative communities have allowed for a reduction in size to 4,000 square feet. If we truly want to create more affordable housing in Anchorage, that’s the next step.