After ten years, endless meetings and committees, and a financial cost too great to calculate, the new Title 21 land use regulations go into effect on January 1, 2016. The new land use regulations were to streamline the process and make it easier for developers, builders, and the public to understand and expedite due process and create a new aesthetic vision for Anchorage. The idea for the plan originated at the height of the 2006 building boom as a knee jerk reaction to some shoddy and, quite frankly, unattractive, homebuilding. A planner from Colorado, whose name I have forgotten, was hired as a consultant to craft the plan. However, I do remember asking him in a meeting what his proposed new land use regulations would do to the value of raw land and his response was ‘prices will go down’. In theory, that sounded like good news for the consumer, but ten years later, any adjustment in land value will be lost to the consumer due to the overreach of the new regulations promulgated by staff and overzealous community activists in their desire to create a more aesthetically pleasing community—at all costs.
I just picked up the new title 21 and the table of contents section alone is 17 single-spaced pages. The entire document barely fits into an oversized three ring binder and is over 836 single spaced pages. The pages are not numbered sequentially. It is not a user-friendly document. Developers, builders, and remodelers will all need to spend time and money hiring planners, engineers, and architects to tell them what they can and cannot build. To say it will slow down the spring 2016 building season is an understatement. To say that home prices will increase as a result of the new Title 21 design standards is a given. Bay windows, wide trim, porches, eight foot wide entries, windows, pop-outs, all cost extra dollars. Buyers and builders usually make those aesthetic and personal preference decisions together (with the help of Pinterest and Houzz). Now, there is a third party at the table.
However, the real underlying problem comes January 1st 2016 with the implementation of the new regulations. Not enough forethought has been given by staff and the assembly as to how to deal with current and ongoing developments. For example, if an acreage was purchased two years ago for residential development and between then and now was rezoned, platted into fifty foot wide single family lots, and issued a building permits for the construction of roads, water and sewer –all under the existing MOA rules and regulations–should not the builders be allowed to build homes under the code that existed at the time? The same question needs to be answered regarding condominium development which is usually on a single tract of land. If any vertical construction has been permitted under the old code, should it not be allowed to continue with the same vertical construction? When developers buy land, they have a vision in mind for the end product. They look at the market and try to project the home buying needs of the public. They design the width of the lot, the type of home, that they believe meet market needs. The entire process almost always takes two to three years from acquisition to the time the first dwelling unit is constructed. The failure by staff and the assembly to address this issue demonstrates a continuing lack of basic understanding of the development and building process, despite everyone’s best intentions of making Anchorage a more attractive, albeit more expensive, community.