New Zoning for Design Stirs Controversy

In Anchorage, Alaska, planners are rolling out a substantial new version of their zoning code, which includes some design requirements like no blank walls. Business owners are up in arms over the proposed changes.

Rosemary Shinohara writes, "A group called the Building Owners and Managers Association has started a petition drive to get the city to kill the massive, seven-year-long, 14-chapter modernization of local zoning laws, of which commercial design standards are part. They want the city to stay with existing code and amend it so it "meets the needs of concerned Anchorage property owners."

And some well-respected architects worry the pending rules will be a flop: They might get rid of the city's worst architecture but bring down the level of the rest by making architects choose features from lists."

Full Story: Anchorage zoning code en route to an update

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Anchorage zoning code

Sounds to me like the RIM firm is trying to Ram this zoning down the throats of the community in general and the development community in particular. It's not surprising that some architectural firms try to bully a community or monopolize planning and design work on major projects. In the experience of Columbus, GA, the library board (under the school board) and the school board was dominated by a local architectural firm that was a joint venture partner with every proposal submitted by leading library architects from around the country for the city's new library. Up to $50 million, all of a special location option sales tax (voted in by the public) had been allocated for the library. The architectural firm's dominance over the two boards could not help but paint a picture of a procurer leading around a bunch of drunken sailors in from the sea, their pockets swollen with $50 million. Rather than be good stewards of the sales tax money, (which could have included matching funding for replacement of a very old branch library (total cost approx $16 million), the committees supported using most of the money for just the new central library. They used approximately $45 million of this and some other resources. Doubtless the architect's fee was based largely on a percentage of cost. This did not stand too well with the citizens. On top of this, a library board member who was a major proponent of the library project had the gall to anounce that the new library would need a new technology building in the near future. The fallout from this included a $250 million school bond issue (sales tax), voted on several years later, that barely passed by a few hundred votes.
Following this, the school district developed a highly controversial $26 million headquarters office-then had the gall to say that the new building would not be able to house the system's emerging technology office, responsible for internet, wifi, etc. On top of it all, neither the $250 million bond issue nor the system administrators made provisions for replacing up to 90 grossly outdated portable buildings. These were weathered and marginally accessible to the disabled, in a system that has seen flat enrollment of approximately 33,000, for almost two decades. The machinations of each of these architectural firms are reprehensible.

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