As a ten-year, full-time resident of Girdwood, I encourage the Assembly to dispose of the Heritage Land Bank (HLB) Parcels known locally as Holtan Hills, which will allow the project to move forward to its planning phase. The Holtan Hills development will result in the creation of critically-needed housing units in Girdwood. This includes single family and multifamily units with the densities the community approved of in a September 2017 Land Use Committee meeting.
Girdwood has approximately 1,500 full-time residents, but of these only about twenty routinely participate in public forums related to land use. Claims that community opposition to the Holtan Hills project is nearly unanimous should only be taken as statements that community meetings have become echo chambers. Many Girdwood residents support development but are exhausted by the chaos and vitriol that have become common in these meetings.
Girdwood community meetings are not conducted using Roberts Rules. Most businesses owners do not participate in the public process, lest their businesses be targeted. As with all small communities, there is a cost to living in Girdwood. One of those costs is that getting “out of line” can result in vicious attacks on personal character and more.
Municipal code and its planning processes are difficult to navigate. Developers take years to bring online new neighborhoods and housing stock. At a recent forum hosted by the Anchorage Homebuilders Association, one builder announced that they are currently working on three-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-car garage units in midtown that will sell for approximately $300,000. The development already has infrastructure and access. The Holtan Hills parcels do not. Even in the town center of Girdwood, a community well supplies two restaurants and two multi-family, high density homesites. All homes south of Crow Creek road are on wells. The image of our charming resort town needs to be paired with the reality of dirt roads, wells, aging housing stock and illegal multiplexes housing seasonal workers. Residents who desire single family homes are stuck in condos because they cannot afford to move out. Adding single family homes, even starter homes, to our limited supply enables people to move up and out, freeing up existing smaller, mixed density units for occupancy.
Dense multi-use housing is certainly needed in Girdwood. But those who claim to oppose Holtan Hills because it does not include denser housing ignore the fact that the Holtan Hills development is already denser than what would typically be allowed on that HLB parcel.
There is also an element of self-interest in the Halt Holtan Hills group. Opponents of the Holtan Hills project claim that they want to see more affordable housing and fewer short-term rentals, yet many members of Halt Holtan Hills already own valuable single-family housing and use their units for the very high-cost short-term rentals they claim to oppose. Anyone can log onto AirDNA and see 200+ short term rentals currently offered in Girdwood.
Some in the Girdwood community want to dictate the exact type of development, timing, and rules that other residents must follow. It is as though they want to impose and run a Homeowners Association for the entire community.
Opposition to development also stems from misunderstanding the public process and an aversion to change. In some cases, development is opposed because residents are illegally using lands they do not own. Heritage Land Bank parcels—like the parcel slated for use in the Holtan Hills development—are often utilized for unauthorized vehicle or other property storage, mountain bike trails, snow dumping, and tree/lumber cutting.
Girdwood is part of the Municipality of Anchorage, and stopping the Holtan Hills project now—in the eleventh hour—will create a dangerous precedent for builders and developers. Though the housing crisis in Girdwood is particularly severe, housing affordability is already a serious issue in all of Anchorage. Halting the Holtan Hills project would send a loud message to developers and builders that attempting to increase housing stock is very risky because a small group of vocal critics can shut down years of expensive development work. This will have a chilling effect on new building throughout the Municipality.
The Holtan Hills development will not solve all of Girdwood’s problems. But it will create a significant amount of new housing, and market-based disposal of the HLB parcels will result in revenues that can be used to support additional, much-needed development in Girdwood. The Holtan Hills project has followed the public process and will ultimately benefit the community. It will even, in the end, benefit those who claim to oppose the project today.
Stay the course, Assembly Members. Vote YES to dispose of the Holtan Hills parcels.
Christina Hendrickson is a ten-year resident of Girdwood, earned a M.S. in Environmental Law and is the former Real Estate Director for the Municipality of Anchorage.