SHOULD THERE BE COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT ON THE HILLSIDE?
A photo essay by John Weddleton 317-0222 john @ weddleton.com 10/21/2007

As part of the Hillside District Plan, we're tasked to address commercial development in the area.

So far, the address we've given is 101 Never Street. At HALO's scoping meeting in 2005, the message was loud and abundant. At both sets of HDP public meetings, the message was clear. The survey results confirm a resounding "no!"

But is that sensible? We know that no one is talking about anything like another Carrs shopping center like the one shown above. Ouch! It's a whale of a store in a sea of parking! That's not Hillside living.

The idea we've heard is something like a small convenience store with fresh exotic vegetables, aromatic pastries and good coffee. Something like Sagaya's City Market. That store has helped the south addition neighborhood by offering a great place to shop and visit with friends. Wouldn't that be a nice addition somewhere on the Hillside?

Okay, that's a pretty good store, but is this something that would fit in the Hillside? That's a lot of stark parking. Maybe this won't appeal to people after all.

 




 

So are we back to "No Commercial Development?" Let's take a look around the Hillside and see how that stacks up against reality. Remember, for this plan, the "Hillside" is east of the Seward Highway and south of Abbott.

Any time you leave the Hillside to go to town, you pass by some notable examples of commercial developments on the Hillside. The Castle on O'Malley and H2Oasis are pretty far down the hill and right next to the Highway so most of us probably don't count these as really being on the Hillside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few other notable examples many of us see frequently are the Anchorage Golf Course and the Zoo. Also, the golf course at Tangle Wood Lakes is hard to miss. These are serious businesses that draw crowds from all over town.

 

 

If you cruise around the Hillside what other commercial activity is there? There's probably more than you'd think and it's all kinds of activities. Some of it is right in your face on the main roads, others are tucked discreetly into a residential lot.


The sign's not pretty, but if you have a flat, I bet you'd be glad this is close.

 

 

 

 


These greenhouses are popular. Commercial Greenhouses are allowed as a Conditional Use in most of the Hillside's zoning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surveyors Exchange looks like it moved in a while ago. It has all the signs of a healthy operation. Its 1/3 acre is zoned R-5 "Rural Residential."

 

 

 

 

Anchorage Roofing has about three acres on Lake Otis. It's R-6 zoning is the residential zoning typical of the Hillside, but it is listed as "commercial property."

 

 

 

 

 


At this place, some dirt moves around occasionally, here and there are various large trucks, but it's hard to say if it's a commercial operation or just some guy parking his rigs at the house.

 

 

 

 

This guy has some heavy equipment next to a huge out building on his home's lot. This is one of the tidiest homes around. Is a front-end loader a problem if you can't see it? Current code prohibits "storage in connection with trade, service or manufacturing activities."

 

 

 

 

I don't know what this building is used for. It's for lease if you want it.

 

 

 

 

This is a family run operation that makes specialized landing gear for helicopters for a worldwide market.

 

 

 

 

Why drive far for tools?

 

 

 

 


So the barn has a pottery shop? If the only way to know are those little signs, who would get fired up over that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was looking for this place and rode by it several times before I realized it was the retired bike mechanic's shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this a house or a business? Only the dog's groomer knows for sure!

 

 

 

 

 

I like a party. Maybe we'll have one here when this plan is completed.

 

 

 

 

 

Home Occupations are allowed on residential lots. There are restrictions. The size of the enterprise is limited to 25% or 500 square feet of the dwelling, or 200 square feet of an accessory building. No more than one nonresident employee is allowed. Only one wall sign no greater than 1 square foot in area and unlit is allowed. Only traffic and delivery vehicles no more "than would normally be expected in a residential neighborhood." Equipment can't produce noise, vibration, glare, fumes, odors, power fluctuations or radio frequency interference. Hours of operation are prohibited between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

 

 


There's a load of religious groups with a variety of things going on. They provide places for large retreats, small HALO meetings and long term assisted living. My daughter took clarinet lessons at one.

 

 

 

What about the commercial equestrian operations? Are we ready to revisit the Large Animal Ordinance?

 

 

 

 


And what about the Bed and Breakfasts? It's hard to spot those. This one is very discreet.

Until it hosts a big event and cars line Hillside Drive.

 

In most of the Hillside's zoning, bed and breakfasts with up to three guestrooms are permitted. For more than that, you have to get special approval.

 

 

 

 


If we say "No Commercial," is anything that involves money changing hands to be banned? I'm sure we're not talking about banning garage sales when we say "Commercial."

 

 

 

 

So I'm sure you get the picture: there's already a lot of commercial on the Hillside. I could have taken lots more pictures if I hadn't run out of film.


People talk about "commercial" like it's all bad, but I've heard established Hillsiders talk fondly about the old days when the Rabbit Hutch was still open. Remember, we've got lots of commercial operations around the Hillside and the survey says 95% of us are really happy living here. How bad are these places?

And if we're going to ban commercial, what will we do with the area that's zoned "B1" for business?

 

 

 

What do we mean when we say "commercial?" These pictures show a wide variety of activities. In Anchorage's Title 21, Land Use Laws, the phrase "non-residential use" might work better to encompass the kind of activities we're talking about.

Is it bad everywhere in the study area? Are some kinds okay? Are nonresidential uses a problem if you can't see or hear them? Maybe there are some situations where some kinds of business open to the public would be okay. Maybe not today, but when the Hillside has 50% more homes there might be people who would like some services closer to home. Could there be some situations where a commercial operation or area with a variety of services could be a benefit? Would it be better to define a location for those activities instead of letting them pop up at peoples' homes like they do now?

We've heard lots about existing traffic problems and the fear of a crushing load of future traffic. We can't solve these problems by just building more roads. It hasn't worked elsewhere and won't work here. If we really want to decrease traffic, we need to reduce driving with less trips and shorter trips. Small neighborhood commercial areas have been show to decrease the number of trips and the distances driven. A commercial area may not fly now, but at some point we may have so much traffic we'll have to build a new arterial. That road would cause so much trauma for so many people and would cost so much, the impact of a commercial area would seem small.



A commercial development next to your rural home could really cramp your style. No one would want that. But what if there were strict guidelines on what activities would be allowed, where they can be and how they will be designed? Our zoning laws can be very specific in what is required from the amount and location of parking, to the style of roof and building material, set backs and buffers, hours of operation and virtually anything that can make a commercial use acceptable.

To address commercial activity on the Hillside by saying "No Commercial" won't end this issue. The Hillside has commercial operations now and at least one undeveloped area zoned for commercial. Some of the existing commercial activities are nice and fit in with the neighborhood. Others are stark industrial operations that detract from the residential character. We should address these.

As the population grows and the cost of driving increases, there will likely be pressure for more services in the area. This is an issue that should be dealt with now.

The Hillside District Plan can state "no more commercial" makes sense now, but we can also describe events that could trigger a reconsideration and make a list of special limitations on nonresidential uses and commercial areas. Isn't it better to plan for this now, while we have a good group of people actively involved, than years from now when there is a rush to respond to a request to add a small store as part of a 500 home development?