In the past five decades, there have been many advances in making homes stronger to withstand earthquakes. Some of the credit goes to city governments that enacted stricter building codes.
But recently, the Anchorage Assembly made a decision that critics claim is a step backwards.
In the past 30 years, Andre Spinelli said his family-run business, Spinelli Homes, has built about 3,000 earthquake-resistant houses.
In the fall of 2012, he and dozens of other developers gathered to demand the Anchorage Assembly get the city out of their way.
Anchorage has “an affordable housing issue,” said Assemblyman Adam Trombley, adding that the municipality gets in developers’ way of building quickly during the short construction season.
“In my opinion, I think it's strictly because of the backlog that happens at the municipality building safety department,” said Paul Michelsohn, president of the Anchorage Home Builders Association.
“The reason we're here is to protect the public's health, safety and welfare,” said Sharen Walsh, the municipality’s deputy director of development services and building official.
Trombley said plan reviewers and building inspectors create unnecessary road blocks for the construction industry. “The attitude of the department is generally very adversarial,” Trombley said.
In 2012, Trombley said those who want to build single- and two-family houses should be able to bypass the city and be given the option to hire someone outside the city to sign off on their plans.
The proposal was immediately criticized.
“If a contractor hires a reviewer to review plans he's building, there's no independency to the review,” said John Aho, a member of the city’s geotechnical advisory commission.
City building officials and geotechnical advisors said the law could foster corruption.
“When the reviewer is being paid directly by the person who desires approval, there's an implication of bias,” Walsh said.
In late September of 2012, despite concerns, the assembly passed the law anyway.
“Hey, look, the people's representatives passed this thing 11 to 0,” Trombley said.
In the past year, dozens of homes were built using the new option.
“We have a reputation at stake and we definitely don't want to get the reputation of the company that got caught cheating on the blueprints or abusing some ability to use a different plan review option,” Spinelli said.
Developers and building officials agree Anchorage residents deserve safe housing, but disagree on who should sign off on the building plans.