Zoning & Building Self Help
What is zoning?
Zoning regulations determine what kinds of buildings and uses are allowed on a piece of property. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan determines the zoning for each parcel of public or privately owned land in the Municipality. The zoning district the land is in determines what it can be used for, what structures can be on the land, conditional uses, prohibited uses and structures, size of the lots and buildings, signs, height restrictions, parking requirements, landscaping requirements, etc.
What does "SL" after a zone mean?
SL is an abbreviation for special limitation. This means there is a unique design or land use restriction specific to that zoning site only. The municipal ordinance which enacting the rezoning explains the special limitations.
It is a violation of the law to build on or to use land in a manner that is not allowed in the zone. Zone regulations are not just guidelines for land use: They are the law. Regulations are enacted by the Municipal Assembly after a public hearing and the advice of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
What if I want to use my land in a way not allowed by the zone?
Zoning has not always been flexible enough to meet all the desires of residents. Exceptions may be made to allow for other land uses or structure placement not specified by the code. There are three basic categories for exceptions to a zone: a variance, a conditional use and a non-conforming use.
What government agencies review requests for a variance, conditional use or a rezone?
After the application has been submitted to the Zoning Division of the Planning Department, copies of the application are sent to the:
- Community council within which the property lies and any Community Council within 500 feet
- Health and Human Services Department
- Traffic Engineer
- Zoning Enforcement Section
- Municipal Engineer
- Fire Prevention Division
- State Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
- Anchorage School District
- All public utilities
Can the general public comment on a request for a variance, conditional use or a rezone?
Yes, public comments can be very helpful, since not all staff members in these reviewing agencies are familiar with all areas of the community.
Which local residents are notified regarding a potential variance, conditional use or a rezone?
Notice of the case and its subsequent public hearing is sent to the owners of property within 500 feet of the proposed case or to owners of the nearest 50 parcels of land, whichever is the greater number. If you receive notice in the mail, this gives you a prime opportunity to express your concerns. Submitting your comments in writing to the Planning Department staff prior to the public hearing will ensure that your comments are distributed to Board or Commission members before the hearing. This gives members an opportunity to do further research regarding your comments. Even if you have already submitted written comments it can be helpful to testify at the hearing, also. This gives the Board or Commission members a chance to ask questions.
While you may believe you are affected by the variance, conditional use, or rezoning, you will not receive notification of the hearing unless you own property within 500 feet of the proposal.
How can I appeal the approval or denial of a zoning conditional use?
The Planning Commission's decision to deny or to approve a conditional use is final unless appealed. The appeal is not made directly to the Assembly but to the Board of Adjustment. An appeal must be submitted to the Municipal Clerk within 20 days of the Planning Commission's action on a form provided by the Clerk. If the appeal is timely the Planning Department compiles a packet of information to include a staff analysis report, the conditional use application, etc. The appellant must arrange for preparation of a verbatim transcript of the Board's meeting at his/her expense. When the packet is ready, the appellant has 7 days to pick up the packet and from pick up time, 15 days to prepare a written report indicating the allegations of error. The Planning Department then responds, in writing, to the brief. The appellant has 10 days to file a reply brief. The Board of Adjustment Hearing is not an "open" hearing; however, the hearing is open to the public and is publicly noticed although no public testimony is taken. It is heard only on the record, which means that only those documents prepared in the packet, the appellant's brief; and the staff's response will be considered. If there is any new information the case will go back to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
If an exception cannot be made, how can I change the zone?
If none of the exceptions will accomplish an individual's plans, a zone change may be proposed. A rezoning or zone change is technically referred to as a zoning map amendment. A new zoning district which is not an extension of an existing zone must be at least 1.75 acres.
Who can initiate a zoning change?
The property owner, Municipal Assembly, Planning and Zoning Commission, municipal administration or any individual, corporation or group which presents a petition signed by 51% of the property owners within the area to be rezoned.
How can I rezone my property?
Rezoning must be allowable under the Municipal code and must follow a process of public review with area residents and government agencies. Once all the paperwork is filed for the request, it typically takes at least 6 months before a decision is made on the rezone requests. Click here for a description of the Steps in the Rezoning Process.
If the rezoning is denied, can it be appealed?
All decisions for denial of a rezoning by the Planning and Zoning Commission are final unless an Assembly hearing is requested. A request for an Assembly hearing must be filed with the Municipal Clerk within 20 days of the rezoning denial. If timely, the proposed rezoning is introduced to the Assembly, a public hearing date set and notices are sent to all property owners in the rezoning area and the neighboring areas within a 500-foot radius. Notice also appears in the newspaper 21 days before the hearing. The Assembly hearing is "open," that is, anyone in attendance at the meeting may give testimony. After the public hearing, the Assembly denies or approves the proposed rezoning.
The legal dissent of a rezoning case before the Assembly is called a "protest." The "protest" is made through the Municipal Clerk's office by owners of 33-1/3% of the area of lots either within or adjacent to (within 300 ft.) the rezoning. A valid legal protest will require the Assembly to approve the rezoning by a 2/3 majority (8 votes instead of 6). The protest petition must be filed with the Clerk at least 24 hours prior to the date set for the Assembly's public hearing.