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.