The title 21 rewrite began during the real estate boom years of the early 2000â€™s.Â What better time to hire an outside consultant from Colorado and pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars Â to tell us how they did it outside and how we should do it here, forgetting that Anchorage, Alaska, is geographically challenged by a sea on one side, mountains on the other, plus parks and military land, making us uniquely challenged on how to adopt our diminishing supply of land into a better, more user friendly and aesthetically attractive community. Â Everyone jumped on the rewrite bandwagon, as well they should have because it would affect how we live for the next twenty years.Â We had the Mayorâ€™s Real Estate Task Force of which I was co-chair. We had the Anchorage Citizens Coalition, the federation of Community Councils, all the community councils, the Anchorage Home Builders Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association, architects, engineers.Â It became a Woodstock of ideas.
Now, flash forward to 2011. Â Residential building permits remain at a 20 year low.Â Lending for new home construction has virtually dried up except for a handful of builders.Â New financing for subdivisions requires you either own the land or close to it.Â Even though Anchorage has experienced 47% appreciation in residential values over the past nine years, our market has experienced a 2.3% decline in values so far this year.
So is this the time for new rules, regulations and restrictions that will add to the cost of new homes?Â It is prudent, but not popular, to take a second look.
Our existing land use regulations are not perfect.Â Some builders and developers have taken advantage of the loopholes to create less than optimum subdivisions and housing but in these though times, Iâ€™m not so sure we should implement a plethora of new regulations that will do nothing but increase the cost of new homes and make them even less competitive with resale properties. One item that has received a lot of negative comments and press is the narrow, twenty-four foot wide home with a double garage door front.Â The people who have objected to these homes are not the ones who live in them, nor are they most likely the friends and neighbors of the homeowners, nor do they most likely drive through the community where these homes are built.Â Rather, they are the people who righteously believe that we should have more aesthetically pleasing homes, regardless of the cost.Â I grant you that some builders have abused this type of home.Â However, narrow width homes are economical to build and provide an opportunity for narrower width lots.Â Varying the type of exterior materials, more landscaping, better and more window placement , wider trim around the doors and windows can make these homes more attractive without substantially increasing the cost of Â building or forcing developers to create wider, more expensive lots. Anchorage isnâ€™t yet Bellevue, Santa Monica or Breckenridge, Colorado and I hope that it wonâ€™t become a city where only the elite can afford to live.
We can and should do better in our housing designs. But I give credit to our local housing industry for the self-corrections they have already taken.Â Our communityâ€™s new homes look better today than they did seven years ago.Â But the question is to what extent can we create more attractive, yet affordable housing? Â After all, appraisers still measure value by square footage and not the size of the window trim. Now is not the time for overly prescriptive measures
As for the current political fray regarding Dan Coffey, he knows the rewrite, chapter and verse, more than anyone other individual in this community, having sat through Thursday morning meetings for two years as the chair of the assembly subcommittee on Title 21.Â He has literally spent hundreds of hours on the rewrite, and our current mayor, whether you agree with him or not on this or any other issue, is our highest elected official and as such, has the authority to hire a review of the provisionally adopted chapters, if they are going to be finalized on his watch.Â Although I have not seen the revisions proposed by Mr. Coffey to the mayor what I have read in the paper suggests that he has attempted to balance costs vs. aesthetics.Â Thatâ€™s a tough but necessary part of the Title 21 rewrite that has previously been ignored.
Ms. Yoshimura is a residential land developer and long-time Anchorage realtor. She is currently vice-chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission.