Sunday, December 4, 2011

More construction rundown

I guess I should be more thorough in scanning the town before I rush off to publish my list of new stuff going up for the season. Yep, I have a few straggelers that got away, but it's better late than never to post them here right? You'll notice that there's no snow in these pics -- that's because I took these just before we got absolutley pummeled and thrashed by the nearly record breaking snowfall in November. But that's okay. Afterall, construction projects are always multi-seasonal, so it's not as if any of these are completed by now. And yes, there are a couple other projects out there such as the construction of a new Alaska Industrial Hardware (AiH) store, a fire station expansion in Muldoon, and an Olive Garden, but those are not exciting. Plus anyways, anyone in the Lower 48 will tell you that if you want fine authentic Italian cuisine, Olive Garden is not the place to go. Anchorageites salivating over the thought of dining out at that restaurant will learn this in due time (unless they're a big fan of endless bread sticks). On to the rundown:

Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center - Midtown

The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center is building a new 42,700 sq. ft. building that will house their clinic currently located in Fairview (at 15,900 sq. ft.) thus more than doubling its medical space. ANHC is a non-profit that takes in patients with no insurance along with Medicare recepients. Because of this non-profit status, the group has been seeking donations to complete the building (at least for the last $2 million). If we are to go by the rendering, the building should come out looking pretty nice design wise. Of course, if you hadn't noticed yet, buildings rarely come out as beautiful as they are depicted in the artist rendering; But I can only imagine that this building will get better as it can't get any worse than how it looks right now [see above image]... yikes.

Providence Generations Project - UMed

As stated before, Providence has been on a roll these last five years and there looks to be no sign of slowing down. It turns out it's this building and not the one mentioned in the previous rundown that will house the newborn intensive care unit and other related mother-baby services. The umm... "Generations Building"(?) will also host expanded room for cardiac surgery and other surgical operations (basically this is where you would go should you indulge in too much Olive Garden). If you know the location of this building, you'll know that this building is totally hidden away on a road I learned only recently actually exists. It was the red crane towering over the hospital that led me to this hidden project. Design wise, I can't complain. Providence easily has the best looking set of buildings of any major hospital in Anchorage. I can't speak for the Native Hospital as I've never been in it, but even the interiors of the Providence campus are kickin'.

Unknown lowrise - Midtown

No sign was erected at the site of this project, so I'm pretty much left in the dark about this one. With the few intel I have, my hunch is that this four storey building will be for AlaskaUSA. It sits on the former location of the little building that once housed Pete's Sushi, and Red Robins before that, and a Mexican restaurant before that (which had really good fries). I'm glad to see the little restaurant building knocked down for it will further move that stretch of C Street toward being dominated by office buildings which make for quite a dramatic view (at least for Anchorage standards) as you drive northbound into Midtown on C. Just an interesting tidbit I thought I'd share: this is the third restaurant to be demolished to make way for a high density building in the last five years. Cat Fish Too (formerly Balto's) was of course flattened to make way for the 14 storey 188 WNL while The Last Frontier Restaurant off Tudor was demolished for a parking garage. [Update]: Yup, I can confirm 100% that this building will be for AlaskaUSA, with some space for lease.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Downtown Anchorage Throwback

If you hadn't known yet, film crews have recently been scurrying around Anchorage shooting scenes for the movie 'The Frozen Ground' (at least that's what its called as of now) which will star Vanessa Hudgens, 50-Cent, John Cusack, and Nicolas Cage. On-location production actually should have wrapped up yesterday, but I can't say for sure. Whatever the case, film crews were spotted shooting at Merrill Field, Muldoon, Ship Creek, and a handful of other places while I myself ran into them in Spenard (where they revived PJ's for a night), and on 3rd Avenue just last night. Their most amusing shoot by far had to be on 5th and 4th Avenues. 5th Avenue was closed from 6pm to 10am Saturday morning as they took a portion of 5th Avenue back in time to the wild west days of Anchorage circa early 1980s when Downtown was a seedy haven of vice complete with strip clubs, massage parlors, and rowdy bars filled with men who just came back from the Slope. I sadly couldn't be there to see the shoot, but luckily we got the internetz to provide us with video:

What's funny is that while the surrounding business were turned into seedy 80s era establishments, the Polar Bar remained just as it is.

BTW for those wanting to get their retro Anchorage fix, there is a great website featuring 70s and 80s era pics of Anchorage by who I think is a UAF professor. His old Seattle pics are simply amazing as they have a lot more people and street scenes that really speak of the time. I highly recommend visiting that as well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Return of the Granny Flats

Ran into this article yesterday on how some cities across the country are now allowing for cottages to be built in the backyards of single family homes. Also known as 'granny-flats' (or carriage houses), they were more common back in the early 20th century before modern zoning codes brought an end to them. Historically built to house in-laws or other extended family, they can also be rented out if you seek to supplement your income as a property owner. You can still see many surviving backyard cottages in numerous cities ranging from Denver, to New Orleans, to Philly. According to the article, Seattle is now one of the handful of places looking to revive them as the issue of accommodating a growing population within the urban boundary comes to the forefront. A snippet from the article:

[...] "Like other mid-size cities that came of age in the first few decades of the 20th century, Seattle is made up largely of compact neighborhoods filled with single-family bungalows. Today, almost two-thirds of the city is zoned for single-family homes, so it’s harder for Seattle to accommodate its growing population -- the city swelled from 563,374 residents in 2000 to 608,660 last year -- without spreading farther and farther into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. That’s partly why the city saw backyard cottages as an attractive new alternative, a way to add affordable housing options without a wholesale redesign of the city’s signature neighborhoods."

Sounds like an idea worth looking into, imo. Increasing density at a suburban level while also allowing for a more diverse mixture of income levels and age demographics to settle in a neighborhood are the natural consequences that would come from this. Of course there will always be certain neighborhoods that would absolutley balk at the prospect of *gasp* renters moving into their hood. They certainly wont be having any of this...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Designing for Density

Just saw an interesting article from The Atlantic: Cities on creating urban density that breaks the stereotypical negative views most Americans have toward density. Architect David Baker talks about the concept of "people per square mile", a measurement that runs consistent with the carbon footprint an individual is likely to have. What's particularly amusing to see in the images throughout the article however is the inclusion of a new neighborhood in Oakland that is strikingly similar to the new Loussac Place development going up between Midtown and Downtown Anchorage. Check it out for yourself.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mountain View's comeback

Just thought I'd throw out that there is an article on this months Alaska Journal of Commerce on the resurgance of the Mountain View neighborhood in Northeast Anchorage. With new houses, mixed-use buildings, a remodeled and reopened library, a new Clark Middle School and such, it's a given that a piece about the neighborhood would surface in the local media. Of course you can also head over to the Mountain View Forum blog for more on this historic neighborhood, wink wink.

[edit] --just noticed that there's also an op-ed written by Andrew Spinelli (president of the Home Builders Association, and presumeably president of Spinell Homes) on why he's not thrilled about Title 21 codes related to home building (surprise!). I'll go ahead and link this as well for those inclined to read it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seriously Dan? You're going to go there?

Before I get into it, it should be explained that Dan Coffey, the former Assembly member who was hired by Dan Sullivan to mutilate the democratically formed Title 21 codes, is like the uncle at the table during the holidays who makes the rest of the family cringe whenever he says something. Now I'm not talking politically incorrect tirade or anything on that level (though those too), rather everything can be boiled down to a simplistic solution regardless of whether you're an expert or not as far as he's concerned. The Anchorage School District needs more funding, Dans response: when I was a kid, we went to school in a quonset hut, and we came out fine (paraphrasing for I don't remember his exact words in both quotes). Does mixed-use work? Dan said something along the lines of: the only mixed-use building I see in town has no businesses in the ground floor. He was referring to the newish mixed-use building in Mountain View which actually does have businesses occupying the ground level including a GCI Store opening soon. But never mind that. Dan Coffey says he see's no businesses in the ground floor, therefore it's official: mixed-use doesn't work! All has been settled.

After the Anchorage Press published Ivan Moore's column that was critical about Coffey's developer friendly revisioning of Title 21 a few months ago, the Press kindly gave Dan the opportunity to have a response. Having read it, I thought 'hey, maybe Coffey does know what he's doing'. The credentials and experience related toward planning and zoning that he lists did seem more than adequate. But it turns out I should've known better. As if some of his proposed changes made public earlier this week weren't outrageous, he revives the Uncle Dan character I had long known as he throws the McCarthy Card at us. That's right. Responding to an interview question, Coffey states: "I don't believe central planning works. It didn't work for the USSR and it probably won't work very well for us". That one I can tell you did not need paraphrasing. I remember saying in an earlier post a year or two ago that Anchorage's development patterns were stuck in a 1950s mindset... I guess we now know whose mindset that is. All his credibility related to planning and zoning just went down the drain. It was thanks to Ivan Moore's latest column that this Coffeyism had surfaced. But indeed I really would like to thank Ivan Moore for giving attention to the Title 21 issue over the past few months. It's not a sexy issue that would grab the attention of readers, and I know they have papers to sell.. err.. to give away.

But I can't help but to go with Coffey's thinking here. Taking it to its logical conclusions, the Haussmann Plan that restructured Paris must have been communist. The same goes with the Commissioners Plans of 1811 for Manhattan. Bleeding red, they are. And that must surely explain why the world absolutely shuns the urban horror show that is Paris while embracing a good ole red white and blue freedom loving city like Houston which really has no zoning regulations to speak of (can you tell?). Even the early planners of Anchorage had to have been communist what with their pinko street grid that have letter streets running north and south and numbered streets east and west. Interesting tidbit: was actually the Alaska Railroad that laid out the grid. Guess that explains them being state owned, no?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Title 21 revisions made public

Yesterday afternoon Mayor Sullivan made available the proposed revisions for the Title 21 land use code for all to see on the muni's website along with the decision made by the city on each of Coffey's proposals. A memorandum that summarizes the major proposed changes and their fate can be found on this PDF. If you wanna go hardcore, you can knock yourself out with the full 600 page Title 21 code as well. One thing I learned from the list of proposed revisions: turns out Dan Sullivan isn't that bad after all... not when compared to Dan Coffey! From my count (and don't take my word for it as I skimmed a bit), it appears that 21 of the 37 major proposals by Coffey had been rejected by the mayors office or only partly accepted. The major changes that the city did take up from Coffey include the elimination of two Midtown districts that would be zoned for mixed-use, the elimination of height limits for high rise buildings going up in Midtown, the elimination of diversified design standards for single family homes which would have prevented the sterile aesthetic look of cookie cutter subdivisions, and the elimination of requirements from developers to take up responsibility of nearby roads and drainage which may be effected by the addition of several new residences using such infrastructure (see the disaster that is Discovery Homes).

But it could have been much worse. Among Coffey's failed proposals were to reduce the Urban Design Commission's review authority to just one function: trail projects (!!!). Another proposal would have seen Title 21 codes take precedent over the Anchorage Comprehensive Plan in the event of code conflict. Similar to the first one, Coffey also proposed shortening (or "streamlining") the review process of streets and trails by reducing review practices currently used by the Municipality. While Coffey had wanted all mixed-use districts eliminated, the city has chosen to keep three but make mixed-use optional rather than required of developers. Developers who choose to build mixed-use in these areas will be given a re-zone fee waiver along with a faster approval process and administrative assistance. "The consultant" had also wanted to allow all types of telecommunication towers in residential areas though the memo claims that there was a misunderstanding and that it was not Coffey's intention to alter this. Other amendments that failed are as follows: "Reducing requirements for pedestrian connections and facilities" (only cul-de-sacs will lose the requirements, but who cares, they're cul-de-sacs), "Deletion of dumpster screening amortization", and "Deletion of townhouse landscaping standards" (only vertical curbs have been deleted), among others.

In the end, I'm kind of mixed. Particularly I'm kind of mixed on the eradication of height limits for Midtown -- but I'll go into that in another post. I am however satisfied that incentives will be provided for mixed-use buildings in the three areas that survived the cut while pedestrian connectivity has been spared along with the rest of the bulk of Title 21. The reduction of landscaping, which we all saw coming, is something that I wouldn't lose sleep over personally as I've never been to crazy for it. I have barely even gotten around to reading the existing Title 21, so I'll have to do more of that before getting a full scope of what is to come. For now, all I can say is thank goodness the other Dan is not mayor.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anchorage construction rundown - Fall 2011

oh man.. I'm clearly not the type who can be counted on to regularly update a blog. Thanks to those of you who have stayed around and enjoyed the ride. I don't know how the Perez Hilton's and Andrew Sullivan's of the blogosphere do it, but my respect goes out to them. In any case, my lack of updates has kinda led to a small bottleneck of construction projects around town not being posted even as they are about to cut the ribbon and open up shop, or even worse, have already opened up. I will not let any major project escape archive on this blog, so I'll start with listing projects that are about complete or already complete and then work my way down to projects just getting started. First up:

The Terraces at Northpointe
Ah yes, what I love about the name for this residential project is that it contains three classic clich├ęs that are common among new residential projects across the country. 1.) The project is spelled in all lowercase (and I respected their grammar choice by keeping it lowercase on the headline), 2.) they put an unnecessary 'e' at the end of northpoint, and 3.) the old @ symbol. Of course. Besides proving that they are too 21st century to settle for "at", it also scores the developers extra cool points because they get to use the [insert building type] @ [insert location name] template. the cottages @ citycentre. You see, what's not to love? Anyways I don't know exactly when they opened, but I imagine it had to be this summer. I regularly drive around the rail yard which these units look out towards and noticed these buildings taking shape during the winter and spring of this year. I appreciate that the developers (the same ones behind Aurora Square [scroll down]) chose more daring architecture which Anchorage could use a lot more of compared to the tiresome wood and slanted roof residential units. So here you are, the terraces @ northpointe, forever archived on anchoragejoop. [edit]: I should probably mention for those wondering that this is in East Government Hill near Elmendorf.

S Tower, Providence Hospital
The Alaska Journal of Commerce refers to this building offhandedly as the mother-baby tower, but I think I'll just stick with the 'S' Tower... you know.. since there's a giant S on the building. Apparently the new building (I think 5 storeys) will be home to newborn intensive care and all the other good stuff that goes with newborns and their moms. Embarrassingly I didn't notice this building until it looked the way it does on the above picture after I just happened to drive by one recent day. Yea I know.. way to go me! But Providence has nearly doubled since 2006, so I wasn't surprised at all to see new buildings coming up almost unnoticed. A roundabout has been built nearby and will link this post-2006 portion of Providence with a new road leading to Lake Otis (and consequently a new intersection for Lake Otis).

UAA Health Sciences Building
A stone throws away from the new building at Providence is the UAA Health Sciences Building. Just as the new Integrated Science Building (brought to you by ConocoPhillips!!!) houses all the fields ranging from geology to astronomy, the Health Sciences building will consolidate all of UAA's... health sciences! This will be the first building in UAA's main campus to be located across the street thus ensuring that future generations will whine and moan about having to hustle from their Calculus I class past parking lots and a busy street to get to Biology on a crisp January day. A skybridge over Providence Drive linking the building to the main campus had been floated around a bit, but seeing that there is no bridge in the final product, it must have fell through. And that's a good thing as a bridge connecting the two would look ridiculous... not worse than the proposed bridge linking City Hall, the PAC, and the new Convention Center, but still bad nonetheless. The ribbon cutting ceremony for this building is October 7th.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Health Communities Building

Of course! the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Health Communities Building building. Just like the last two, this building is also rising in the U-Med district in East Anchorage. At 97,000 sq. ft., the 5 story building will house the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consort.'s Environmental Health and Engineering division. They would be the folks in charge of building public health infrastructure out in the Bush. I haven't paid attention, but I believe ANTHC's main building is the one right next to it, built around 2006.

Three Cedars Office Building

Couldn't really find anything about this building. A search for the term "Three Cedars Office Building, Anchorage" yielded only dead end leads. The one page that did get me somewhere was a gallery of the groundbreaking ceremony on Mayor Dan Sullivan's Facebook page..... ermm, okay(?). Anyways, the building is rising near the corner of New Seward and Northern Lights right next to the new Walgreens that opened up earlier this summer in place of the old Midas. It's a bit of an odd location in contrast to where all the other office construction in Midtown has been these last several years, but there is a precedent for this as its clone, which was built about ten years ago, sits across the street. Not the most prettiest design facade wise, but I'll take it.

Mystery Building!*
Mysterious! Sometime around August I noticed this little two storey on 3rd Avenue rise from what was previously just an empty lot across the street from the McKinley Apartment buildings. From the looks of it, it appears it will be either an office, or some sort of retail. I'm hoping retail. The block across the street has got to be the most densely populated in the state of Alaska (don't quote me on that... I might get a correction from Juneau..). Combine the two buildings across the street and you have 18 floors worth of residential units. And there's more residential in other nearby blocks too. Residents in the area have a couple restaurants (La Cabana, Kodiak Cafe) along with a laundromat, which really helps, in walking distance. But what about a grocery store? or a bank? A huge dilemma for downtowns across America that are not New York or San Francisco is that they often lack such basic needs. Boutique shoe stores, hipster coffee shops, and art galleries are nice, but some basic infrastructure is also needed if residents are to be brought in to develop a lively sustainable downtown that doesn't become a ghost town at 6 in the evening. But I digress. Hopefully this building will be leased for retail. We'll see.

*[edit] Thanks to a reader, it has been clarified that this will in fact be the new home for the Downtown Soup Kitchen. Okay, not what I was hoping for, but I'll easily take this over nothing. Here's a Flickr photostream dedicated to the project (check out their current building compared to their future digs... what a change!)

Loussac Place
I don't know why so many projects are starting ground breaking so late in the summer, but you can chalk up Loussac Place as another project that is guaranteed to see builders work in the bitter cold, Dena'ina Convention Center style. Unlike the other projects this fall, Loussac Place is a redevelopment that will serve the same purpose as its previous incarnation, that being low income residential. However unlike then Loussac Manor, Loussac Place will also provide market-rate housing units in addition to the low-income. The best part is that Loussac Place will hold nearly double the units that Loussac Manor held, going from 62 units to 120 (44 of those being market-rate). The new site will also hold a community center and retain the nearby basketball court while the Salvation Army, which sits next door, will build a recreational center. While people invested in the project tout its great location (no surprise), others may have a differing view. Yes, its location between Midtown and Downtown is great, along with the neighborhood being smack dab in the Chester Creek Greenbelt next to the community garden and sports fields, but lets not forget the roads surrounding it. For all practical purposes, A and C Street are mini freeways with three lanes each in which cars whiz by at 45 to 55 mph on both sides. Thank heaven there is a trail that goes under the roads, but even if I were a parent, I'd be cautious about the little ones. Overall though, I'm very satisfied with this project. These buildings will be arranged in a way similar to the development in Muldoon in which garages and their alleyways are hidden away while neighbors doors will face each other allowing for a more social and safe atmosphere. It will basically run parallel with what is called for in the revamped Title 21 codes. Replacing dumbed down 1960s suburbia with new urbanist development that responds to 21st century problems with 21st century solutions is definitely a step forward for this city.

click to enlarge

Friday, July 1, 2011

Re: Bubba's Anchorage or yours?

I've been itchin' to update the blog for the past month after a year long absence, but it was this piece from Ivan Moore on this weeks Press that motivated me enough to get back to posting. With the completed Title 21 codes being "edited" in a backroom by former Assembly member Dan Coffey with the help of business interests on the Muni's dime, it's nice to see many people outraged over what's happening. I wouldn't have expected this considering the ultra exciting and exhilarating world that is municiple zoning and building codes... but citizens are aware and the Anchorage Press in particular has had its fingers on the pulse for the past few weeks. This weeks Ivan Moore column was especially direct:

[...] "I want a vibrant, modern downtown with great hotels, cool shops and pedestrian-friendly walking areas, with all the sleazy, decrepit stuff gone (the Avenue Bar especially). I want to be able to walk there, drive there, bike there or bus there and even in the dead of winter be able to get around easily without slipping over or having to hike over snow berms". [...]

Ignore the bit about the Avenue Bar... that's just personal tit for tat as he and the owner of the Avenue Bar are not best buddies... it's not a sleazy place btw. Also to the mayor's credit, he did introduce the idea of having People Mover buses operate with the same light changing tech as found in emergency vehicles so as to speed up bus service and provide further incentive for riders.