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After a decade of review, the Anchorage Assembly passed Title 21 Tuesday night.
Several versions of the Assembly have been revising Title 21, or Anchorage land-use law, for about 10 years. At their regular meeting Tuesday night the current assembly finally approved it, with more than 150 amendments. One major revision was the elimination of all commercial design standards, with an exception for big box stores. Assembly member Bill Starr spoke in support of the amendment.
“And if buildings become ugly, unsafe, unusable, too icy, to slippery, I think tenants won’t move into them. That’s the other motivation there, let the free market do it’s work. I’m gonna support the deletion of this small section and I think the industry can police itself,” Starr said.
The amendment was submitted by Assembly member Chris Birch. It passed 6-5. The design standards that were deleted called for windows that are visible from streets, clear entryways and easier pedestrian access. Municipal planners were in favor of them. Besides Trombley and Birch, Assembly members Bill Starr, Cheryl Frasca, Ernie Hall and Jennifer Johnston voted in favor of the amendment. The Title 21 process began back in the early 2000s and included a chance for the public could weight in on how they wanted the city to grow and develop. It was linked to the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan, Anchorage 2020, which was meant to serve as a blueprint for 20 years. When Mayor Dan Sullivan came into office he began a review Title 21, using consultants. Critics say the process was directed away from the goals of 2020 and ended up being taken over by special interests.
Another major change was the decision to allow mother-in-law apartments on single family residential lots. Ossiander proposed the amendment. Gray-Jackson spoke out against it.
“This is a real big change and we really need more public discussion on this issue. And to go ahead and approve this amendment right now, I think, disenfranchises our community and I think it’s just simply not fair,” Gray-Jackson said.
The amendment passed 8-3.
Assembly member Patrick Flynn proposed amendments that would have limited invasive plants and trees, but they were shot down. He also proposed an amendment that would have made stream setbacks 50 feet versus 25. Ossiander was concerned that municipal stream-mapping was poor. She said she wanted to wait six months for a study to come out that would provide more information. That didn’t fly with Flynn.
“Jumpin’ Jimminy Cricket on a Pogo stick. We have been working on this for 10 years! Now we want six more months. Please, as much fun as this is, let’s just be done with it,” Flynn said.
There was a an exception for existing homes that were built closer to streams. The amendments was voted down 7-4 with Flynn, Traini, Honeman and Gray-Jackson voting in support of larger setbacks.
Another big issue was lighting. Assembly member Johnston proposed an amendment that allowed lower lighting on some streets in more rural areas. The assembly passed it. Then Mayor Sullivan vetoed it. Some assembly members said lower lighting was more appropriate in rural areas, despite the concerns of attorneys. The Assembly overrode the mayor 8-3, with Traini, Honeman and Gray-Jackson supporting the Mayor.
There was also a push by Trombley for to allow electronic signs to flash messages every two seconds instead of every 20 seconds, but it was voted down.
Former Assembly member and previous Planning Director, Dr. Sheila Selkregg, says the Title 21 passed Tuesday night has taken a U-turn away from the direction of Anchorage 2020. The deletion of commercials design standards, in particular, she says, will have dire consequences for the look and feel of the city.
“It means you can pretty much build any kind of design you want on a building. It can be as ugly and and as cheap as possible and you don’t have to meet any expectations.”
Selkregg says she’s disappointed that the Assembly didn’t listen to the public who turned out in numbers to recent public testimony to ask for a return to a provisionally adopted version of Title 21. She says the passage of the amended version can be attributed to one source.
“Big business owners, big property owners, BOMA, who don’t want to pay taxes, they don’t want to be told what to do — they really want to be able to do anything that they want in this town. They’re demonstrating that they’ve really put energy into political candidates and it’s paying off for them. And I think if the public wants something different, they need to get engaged and elect people that expresses their interests,” Selkregg said.
In the end the Assembly passed Title 21, 9 to 2, with Trombly and Flynn the only nay votes.
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The City of Sitka will spend $12 million to buy a new diesel turbine. The massive piece of equipment will generate 15 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to prevent rolling blackouts should the city be unable to use either of its two hydro plants.
Now that the city has purchased the turbine, it needs a place to put it. And making room for the new generator at the Jarvis Street Diesel Plant means clearing some rock. The city has found a way to do that at a fraction of what it normally costs, but not everyone is happy about it.
S&S General Contractors will remove about 25,000 cubic yards of rock near the city’s Jarvis Street Diesel Plant. Sitka already has agreements with S&S, and so, instead of getting bids from other companies, it simply amended its deal with S&S.
The company will do the work in exchange for credit toward the $107,000 it owes the city on a quarry lease.
City officials say it’s a great deal. If you do the math, S&S is removing the rock at a price of $4.29 per cubic yard. Remember that number: $4.29 per cubic yard. Now compare that to the going rate for the work.
“We find an average price of about $80 per cubic yard,” said Sitka Public Works Director Michael Harmon. “And when you do the math on that, for this work, you’d be facing somewhere around $2.5 million to contract this out in the normal market with the prices we typically get.”
The city calls it a rare opportunity — a win-win for a tight city budget that saves some major money, and a local contractor who gets to shed some debt. That is exactly why Sitka resident Vaughn Hazel has a problem with it.
“There is a statement here that this is a rare opportunity that will greatly benefit the city and a local contractor. Well that’s very true,” Hazel said. “But I don’t think you should benefiting a local contractor. I think you should benefit all local contractors by giving them all a chance to bid on it.”
Sitka resident Connor Nelson wrote a letter to the Assembly protesting the move as well. He calls it illegal, saying the city is misinterpreting its own rules, and that the exceptions the Assembly is using to approve the deal aren’t right.
Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Andrew Thoms, on the other hand, wrote in a letter to the Assembly that the deal was brokered in the best interest of the city and its citizens, and that the cost savings made it worthwhile.
City Code says Sitka must accept bids on any contract worth more than $50,000. But the code also gives the Assembly some wiggle room.
“This is a very unusual situation,” said Municipal Attorney Theresa Hillhouse. “The Assembly doesn’t need competitive bid if they find it’s inappropriate because of two items: one, the nature of the property, and two, the circumstances surrounding its disposal.”
In this case, Hillhouse says, projects dealing with existing local government contracts can be exempted from the competitive bid process.
Thor Christianson said it makes sense to take advantage of the savings offered by the S&S deal.
“And I don’t have any problem with this, other than just a general nervousness, I guess it would be, about not going out to bid for something,” Christianson said. “It’s obvious why we’re not doing it. Let’s just say in the future, I ask that we avoid it if possible.”
Assembly members ultimately approved the deal with S&S. Pete Esquiro and Mike Reif voted no.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell has introduced legislation aimed at improving the permitting process in Alaska, but critics fear it will hurt the public’s ability to participate in permitting decisions.
Broadcaster: Margaret Friedenauer
The state unveils its plan for the new shuttle ferries; an interview with Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
Local News for Feb. 26, 2013
Broadcaster: Margaret Friedenauer
Local News for Feb. 25, 2013