Changes cannot have a permanent negative impact on pedestrian safety
As you see below, the Commission cannot approve a plan that has permanent negative impact on pedestrian safety. Removing the sidewalk between the Mall and Nordstrom Rack store does just that.21.50.200 (old code)- General standards for site plan approval. (old code*)
The authority reviewing a site plan shall approve the site plan only if it finds that the site plan:

A. Meets the criteria for its approval established under this title; and
B. Will not have a permanent negative impact on those items listed in this subsection substantially greater than that anticipated from permitted development:
1. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic circulation and safety.
2. The demand for and availability of public services and facilities.
3. Noise, air, water or other forms of environmental pollution.
4. The maintenance of compatible and efficient development patterns and land use intensities.
(AO No. 85-21)
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AMC 21.50.200 (old code)

Buildings are not allowed to move away from conformity
All Large Retail Establishments built before 2001 would have been non-conforming when the new building standards were approved, but since it would be a significant financial hardship to bring them up to the current standards, they were considered to be “approved” site plans (AMC 21.55.130 (old code). However, any time the owners want to make changes to the exterior of the building they are required to bring them closer to conformity with the new regulations. Here the code specifically states that they cannot move away from conformity.

21.55.100 (old code) – Nonconforming parking facilities, loading facilities, signs or other characteristics of use.
If the characteristics of a use
, such as signs, off-street parking, off-street loading, lighting or other matters required by this title in relation to specified uses of land, water areas, structures or premises are not in accord with the requirements of this title, no change shall be made in such characteristics of use which increase nonconformity with such requirements. Change shall be permitted in the direction of conformity to these requirements of this title.
(GAAB Ord. No. 1-69; GAAB Ord. No. 73-119; GAAB Ord. No. 74-56; GAAB 21.05.070.J; AO No. 77-299, § 1.Q.1, 8-30-77)
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AMC 21.55.100 (old code)

Changing the Sears anchor space from the Mall* concept to a strip center will have a negative impact on the rest of the Mall businesses
21.55.130 (old code) – In determining the degree to which the standards set out in 21.50.320 shall apply to the expansion, reconstruction, renovation, or remodeling proposed, the commission shall also consider:

3. Whether relaxation of any requirement of 21.50.320 would impose any significantly greater negative impact on surrounding property;

*The Anchorage Planning Department cites the “Illustrated Book of Development Definitions” as a resource that they use if a term is not specifically defined in the code. According to the “Illustrated Book of Development Definitions,” a “mall” is defined as:

(1) A shaded walk or public promenade; (2) a shopping center where stores front on both sides of a pedestrian way, which may be enclosed or open.
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AMC 21.55.130 (old code)

According to Municipal Code, changes in an existing “Large Retail Establishment” built before the new “Big Box” standards were put into place, are required to bring the building closer to conformity with the same standards that are applied to a new building
21.50.320 (old code) – Public hearing site plan review – Large retail establishment.

A. Intent. The standards in this section promote architectural variety, compatible scale, access amenities, and mitigation of negative impacts. These standards govern site plan review by the planning and zoning commission for large retail establishments. Where these standards conflict with other provisions of this title, these standards and the terms of site plans approved under this section shall govern.

J. Pedestrian access. The establishment shall provide sufficient accessibility, safety, and convenience to pedestrians, customers and employees. Unobstructed sidewalks shall link the site to existing public sidewalks, its entrances, adjacent transit stops, and abutting residential and commercial areas. Sidewalks shall also be provided along the full length of any building where it adjoins a parking lot. Sufficient sidewalks or barriers shall be provided between parked cars and buildings to prevent vehicles from protruding into reasonable pedestrian passage. Sidewalks shall be separated from adjacent streets by an area sufficient for snow storage and to provide a buffer for pedestrians from vehicular traffic.

CASE NOTE: The Commission allowed Sears to remove a sidewalk next to the building where it adjoins a parking lot (next to the loading dock). In the Commission’s defense that sentence (underlined above) had been removed from this section in the analysis that staff provided to them.

K. Community spaces. Appropriate interior and exterior public areas shall be provided and maintained for customers and visitors to the site to congregate and relax.

CASE NOTE: In their application Sears cites that the Mall seating would fulfill this requirement even though the new space does not have an interior connection, so it is not part of the Mall

O. Northern design elements. The commission may require the provision of design elements that address Anchorage’s distinct geography, low light angles, length of days, cold temperatures, wind, snow and ice.

CASE NOTE: The Commission allowed Sears to remove awnings along both the Seward Highway & Northern Lights side of the building, removing protection from the elements on the only routes that Mall shoppers have to access the Nordstrom Rack space.

P. Aesthetic characteristics.

1. Facades and exterior walls, including side and back walls. The building shall be designed in order to reduce the appearance of massive scale or a uniform and impersonal appearance and to provide visual interest. Long building walls shall be broken up with projections or recessions. Along any public street frontage, the building design should include windows, arcades, or overhangs along at least 60 percent of the building length. When appropriate, architectural treatment, similar to that provided to the front face, shall be provided on the sides and rear of the building to mitigate any negative view from abutting properties and/or streets. The site plan shall ensure buildings have complexity at street level with human scale by providing features such as changes in building form at entrances, and providing windows, enhanced trim and architectural detail.

CASE NOTE: The Commission allowed Sears to remove the awning that was in place across the north (Northern Lights side of the Mall and replace it with a loading dock. That side of the building now includes no windows, arcades or overhangs.
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AMC 21.50.320 (old code)

* Since this application first came before the Commission in 2014, the applicant had the choice of doing it under the old version of the code or the new version.

Planning and Zoning Commission Hearing Info