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Story Last modified at 9:28 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Clock ticking on Title 21 rewrite
Critics fault delays, Ossiander defends process

Alaska Star

Chugiak's Debbie Ossiander ran for Assembly to help oversee the rewrite of municipal zoning and land-use code known as Title 21.

As Ossiander starts her last term in office, the rewrite still isn't done.

Most of Title 21's reworked chapters have been provisionally adopted by the Assembly but not made law. A separate chapter devoted to Chugiak-Eagle River remains unfinished.

Now that long-delayed timeline – and Ossiander's role – is coming under fire from the Anchorage Citizens Coalition, a nonprofit organization that encourages responsible growth through planning.

Coalition members Dianne Holmes and John Weddleton urged the Assembly to adopt Title 21 without further delay at the body's Feb. 15 meeting.

"It's ready," Weddleton said of the rewrite "Vote. Vote up or down."

Ossiander, who chairs the Assembly's Title 21 committee, came back with a characteristically blunt response: The rewrite isn't ready.

"It's not code now," she said during the meeting. "It has holes and it will not work."

The Assembly took no action. The rewrite is hanging fire as Mayor Dan Sullivan waits for a report from land-use attorney and former Assemblyman Dan Coffey, tasked in a $30,000 contract with reviewing the sprawling document.

Ossiander said she hopes to see the rewrite finished within six months.

During a later interview, she said the Assembly did provisionally approve most of the chapters but reserved out areas of some because they were complicated or amendments in one chapter affected an earlier one.

Those areas still need work, she said.

"It's really to my mind fair to give the administration that's going to enforce the code the chance to look through it and make comment on it," Ossiander said. "I'm OK with letting the Sullivan administration have some time but I do want it done."

Coffey connection

Holmes and Weddleton, however, faulted the ongoing administration review because of Coffey's involvement.

Instead of reviewing and making small changes, Coffey is substantially changing the plan to benefit the building community, Weddleton said.

Coffey, in a letter to friends and colleagues about the upcoming municipal elections, describes himself as being tasked to "re-work" Title 21. Members of the Building Owners and Managers Association chapter in Anchorage – a group that complained last year about the rewrite – are part of his advisory committee.

"This is totally inappropriate," Holmes said. "It's not public process."

Coffey could not be reached for comment.

Weddleton said the provisionally adopted chapters have created "dueling land-use laws" as planners abide by the laws on the books but also try to keep the rewritten code in mind.

Weddleton also said part of the problem is Ossiander's perfectionism in her role heading up the Title 21 committee.

"She is very detail-oriented, which is a great thing in many situations but with this it's a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good," he said. "She's going for perfect and we won't hit that. If we wait for that we will never move forward."

For her part, Ossiander said the review will be finished before she terms out in 2013.

"Boy, it better be," she said.

Chugiak-Eagle River chapter

The rewrite came into being after Anchorage officials wanted to codify the recommendations of Anchorage 20/20, the comprehensive plan forged through six years of public comment.

Initially, the rewrite wrapped in Chugiak and Eagle River, even though the area has a comprehensive plan of its own.

Locals worried the more rural character of Chugiak and Eagle River would get lost in the process.

By 2005, representatives from the Eagle River, Eagle River Valley, Birchwood, Chugiak, Eklutna Valley and Southfork community councils created a consortium to create the separate chapter.

The separate Chugiak-Eagle River chapter is in draft form now and still has go to before the planning and zoning commission, probably no sooner than mid-May, before getting to the Assembly, Ossiander said.

Some of the proposed provisions of Chugiak-Eagle River's draft Chapter 10:

• Created a "Rural Commercial" zoning district to allow commercial properties, especially along the Old Glenn Highway, to utilize and improve their properties, without the imposition of Bowl-style development such as paved parking, traffic control and building appearance.

• More responsive to public need than "Bowl Code" with respect to home occupations, fabric structures, quonset-style structures and accessory dwelling units.

• Recrafted zoning districts to meet the needs of the area so that changes to "Bowl Code" will not have unintended effects here.

• Accessory Dwelling Unit provisions to more accurately match the existing conditions in the Chugiak-Eagle River area.

• Created a local advisory board to coordinate between community councils on matters of community interest.

• Protected private property rights.

• "Legalizing" approximately 30 percent of R-6-zoned properties to ensure the R-6 rural lifestyle continues to be an option into the future.

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This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 23, 2011.