Halt Holtan Hills!

The housing crisis is at the doorstep of every American town and city, big or small. Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage are no exception. People who a decade or two could have purchased homes now find homeownership far out of reach. Here in Girdwood, the crisis is especially severe. Hundreds of people who work at our businesses, including many who work at the resort, have zero options for housing within the community. Some are sleeping in tents, couch surfing, or living in their vehicles.

So why, then, is the Municipality and their partner, CY investments, racing forward with a plan to take one of Girdwood’s last pieces of prime developable land and turn it into another “Urban Sprawl Development” that consists largely of expensive, wasteful, single-family units and luxury homes? The 400+ acre “Holtan Hills” tract is owned by the public Heritage Land Bank, so the Municipality has discretion about how the land should be developed. Yet the Holtan Hills proposal only includes a minimal number of multifamily homes, and these include a paltry number of units. These ”multifamily” units included in this proposal are an attempt to placate critics, but will do nothing whatsoever to make housing more affordable in Girdwood. The Holtan Hills plan, as proposed, is almost entirely more of the sprawling, exclusive, unaffordable housing that got us into this crisis in the first place.

Girdwood is hemmed in by mountains on two sides and the ocean on the other. Land here is very limited. We will not have a second chance to get this right.

Some claim that creating housing of any type will ease prices for everyone. This may be true in big cities where a relatively fixed number of people are looking for a home, and those who “trade up” to higher-end housing leave vacant housing supply behind them. But in a resort community like Girdwood, there is an effectively unlimited number of wealthy people who can and will purchase luxury properties like those in the current Holtan Hills proposal. We need efficient, lower-cost multifamily units—the type of units that would be of little interest to a multimillionaire doctor but can be life-changing for a ski instructor, maintenance worker, teacher, or restaurant employee.

In addition to doing nothing to make housing more affordable, the Holtan Hills development is simply an awful financial deal for the Municipality. The Municipality agreed to be on the hook for many millions of dollars that it will cost to develop this land. Their chosen development partner, CY Investments, has effectively outsourced the financial risk to the taxpayers of Anchorage—all to build unaffordable housing that is not in the public interest. It is unclear whether the Municpality will even receive a cent from the development of this public land. The plan should have been scrapped because of this fact alone.

Girdwood has held at least fifteen meetings to discuss the Holtan Hills project and the overwhelming consensus is that this is the wrong plan, the wrong developer, and the wrong time for this 1960s-1980s type of development. The current Holtan Hills plan is simply a gross misuse of public land. We want SmartGrowth models of housing, more density in developed areas, and prioritization of walkability and transportation connectivity. If a smarter model were used, much more of the rain forest and historic trails slated to be destroyed in the current plan could be preserved, too.

Girdwood does not want to go down the same path as other ski towns in America, where workers cannot find housing and sleep in vehicles next to giant, empty fourth homes owned by the wealthy absentee owners. Our community wants to provide safe, affordable, inclusive housing for those who live and work here. For these reasons, we ask that you join us in opposing the current Holtan Hills development. The Municipality should go back to the drawing board, and work to develop a plan centered around the idea that “public lands = public benefits.”

The housing crisis did not simply happen overnight. It was a result of plans like the current Holtan Hills proposal that prioritize the desires of the wealthy over those of ordinary people. We cannot do more of the same and expect different results. The Girdwood community asks the Assembly to reject the Holtan Hills plan on December 6th and replace it with an inclusive development plan that serves the community.

Grace Pleasants is a lifelong Alaskan and Girdwood resident. She works as a historical real estate developer in the Pacific Northwest. 

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LisaV
1 month ago

I don’t live in Girdwood, and driving through I must admit I dismissed the “Halt the Holtan Hills!” signs as a bunch of NIMBYs but this is well argued and makes sense knowing the land ownership is at least public-adjacent. The Assembly should not only consider the public financial risks that are being taken on in the developer contract and the ultimate benefit to the community. They should also look at how the municipal building codes themselves or their implementation make it nearly impossible for a developer to make money on any proposal that is not luxury. As the writer… Read more »

Hasten Holtan Hils
1 month ago
Reply to  LisaV

I think the bigger factor here in preventing affordable housing in Girdwood is blatant self-interest on the part of current Girdwood landowners. What have they actually done to advance dense multifamily housing in Girdwood? Nothing. Have they taken any community-wide action to limit their own profitable short-term rentals? No. (And they want them grandfathered into any future bans!) Have they tried to change zoning in existing low-density single-family lots? Of course not. The reality is that the residents claim to want affordable housing but when it comes time to actually do anything in REALITY they balk. Every. Single. Time. At… Read more »

Anonymous
1 month ago

We can all agree that this project is not in the best interest of the community and will only lead to more hardship for the local workforce, but….I must ask this simple question. How many of the home owners and multi home owners in Girdwood currently rent to a local worker? How many of these people charge a affordable rate for their rental (under $1200 a month)? Now if you answered yes to being a home owner and charging over $1200 a month (for a single room) and have a “Halt Holtan Hills sign” in your front yard, I must… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Anonymous
HoltanHillsSignSupporter
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Let the record show that all those who have “Halt Holtan Hills” signs paid $11.21 and this is not a sponsored campaign by “Big Landlord”. The majority, if not entirety of sign owners, live in the girdwood residence where the sign is displayed. Throwing rocks at protesters does not solve the issue. Let’s start with a limit on nightly rentals before we attack the already low stock of long term rental units.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago

Which of you existing 265+ short term rental owners are going to convert to long term rentals first? Lynne?

Lynne' Doran
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I understand the point you are trying to come from but what has happened now in Girdwood is that home prices are so high that if a person bought a house as an investment to rent it out long term they have to charge large rent prices to make the mortgage. This is why the Holtan Hills project needs to add a third party to the table that can bring in workforce housing/affordable housing.

Areal Bilk
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

Actually I think the point Anon is making is this: https://alyeskahideaway.com/

Screaming Banshee
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Presumptuous, and again not true.

Sleepless in Girdwood
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I am a homeowner. I have a sign. I live in my home and don’t have an extra room to rent out because they are already filled with my family members… I wouldn’t fit into the boxes you have concluded we must all fit into. Are you saying that in order to not be perceived as greedy, I need to have my kids share a room and rent the room out to a local employee? The signs are a result of our community, questions and concerns, being ignored. I want workforce to have the opportunity to live here, doesn’t make… Read more »

Floridawoman
1 month ago

Wouldn’t the logical solution be, to use this land to build a homeless shelter? That clearly is where the true Anchorage bowl need is. Oh never mind, look a baby muskox.

Lynne' Doran
1 month ago
Reply to  Floridawoman

Because Girdwood is a ski town that is located 45 minutes south of Anchorage a homeless shelter is not the solution. For this community of 2,500 there needs to be an element of affordable/workforce housing as the RFP said it would address. Unfortunately no provisions were put in place to address this problem. The current plan is to sell all lots at market rate. Public Lands = Public Benefit and right now there is no benefit to the Girdwood community.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

Sometimes, especially for a non-tax supported entity, that public benefit might be in the form of profits parlayed into the next property or project, or in keeping the other 10,000 acres maintained and the entity staffed. You aren’t as smart as you think. And news flash – HLB can take the $3-4M they might spend on this project if you “halt” it and take it up to Eklutna or Eagle River. They’ve spent too much money in Girdwood anyway. The locals certainly never appreciate it and just want to cry about being conscripted into the Muni 45+ years ago and… Read more »

Screaming Banshee
1 month ago
Reply to  Floridawoman

No, stupid.

Anonymous
1 month ago

Anonymous

Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Grace – Well written and informative. Your ideas should get people wondering. . .which should make it obvious to the Assembly that there far too many questions and unknowns to dispose of the land at this time.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

The only question when it comes to Grace is why anyone would lend her money on another development. At least this one won’t go into foreclosure. Connie finishes her jobs.

Areal Bilk
1 month ago

The proposal as it currently stands calls for two 8-plex units as well as several tri and duplex units. The homes will be sold at market value. The notion that Anchorage residents should subsidize Girdwood housing so liftees can live within walking distance of the slopes is unrealistic. The author of this essay knows that such a plan is unrealistic and if development is stopped that nothing will be built. No development is just fine by Mrs Pleasants because she already has a $500k home a mere 3 blocks from chair 4.

Screaming Banshee
1 month ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

Not true! None of this is freaking true. Go back to what ever hole you crawled out of. Attacking someone for owning a home is not the solution to any of this… you have no idea the efforts our community has made.

Last edited 1 month ago by Screaming Banshee
Lynne' Doran
1 month ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

Girdwood is a ski town and the Anchorage Municipality needs to look at successful models of ski towns in the Lower 48 that have addressed the issue of having affordable housing for those that want to live and work in their communities. The design put forward by CY Investments present single family lots with a few lots for more dense housing as you noted however being sold at market rate will not address the issue. A third party needs to be a part of the solution. Current crappy condos are selling for about $600K so a new condo will go… Read more »

Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

“Halt Holtan Hills” does not mean “No Development”. It means “Go Back and Work on a Better Solution”. If the Holtan Hills plan gets approved as is, Anchorage taxpayers will be subsidizing profits for the land developer. The developer will be buying public land below market rate and utlimately selling that to housing developers for people who are financially very well-off. There should be affordable housing as part of any development which would actually lead to more rental and housing units being build if the community has its way.

Areal Bilk
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

This is the ordinance that will be read tonight: https://www.muni.org/Departments/Assembly/SiteAssets/Pages/Meetings-Worksessions/AO%202022-103(S).pdf
It calls for (a) restrictions in long term rentals, (b) transfer of a lot to a housing authority. Despite these concessions the loud minority is fighting hard against this plan. If this doesn’t go through Girdwood will see no development and home prices will continue to climb through the roof. Homeowners like Doran and Pleasant are fine with the bubble and somehow they’ve convinced service industry workers that they should oppose the plan as well.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

HLB hasn’t gotten a taxpayer dime since it started. So pray tell, exactly how are the taxpayers subsiding anything??? And in the real world, “Halt Holtan Hills” means “Bring In the Attorneys and Put a Cloud on Land Title so Nothing Can Happen for Years Until Everything is Litigated.” You guys live in such a cute vacuum.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

And she is mad her plan to cash in on a development on HLB land a few years ago never panned out. She was actually planning to develop and keep her market rate housing but Little Bears and the Girdwood Clinic couldn’t play nice long enough to finish that deal. Poor Grace. I wonder who she will rent her new ADU to….surely a local for below market rent.

GIRDWOOD LOCAL
1 month ago

Grace… you have a half million dollar home in Girdwood, no?

I was living in that town long before you got there and for longer.

Your hypocrisy is noted. And property values are increasing based on supply and demand.

Its carpetbaggers like you who cause solutions to present themselves.

Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  GIRDWOOD LOCAL

You just sound stupid!!! Did you even read the article?

Last edited 1 month ago by Anonymous
Lynne' Doran
1 month ago
Reply to  GIRDWOOD LOCAL

Does this comment aim to speak to the problem of affordable/workforce housing for those in Girdwood that want to live and work there? If you have lived in the community as long as you say you have then you must be aware that businesses are not open as much as they used to be and the reason is because they don’t have employees to cover the shifts. Look at the content of the story and thank the person who brought forward the problems with Holtan Hills as presented and works towards adding affordable/workforce housing to the community. Hope to see… Read more »

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

Sorry, has the person you speak of EVER been to a Housing Working Group meeting? Isn’t she just bitter that she was off in Tacoma and missed the RFP and doesn’t understand the complex agreement? Isn’t she just jealous of Connie’s success? Isn’t she mad she never got to hoodwink HLB and the community in South Townsite with the community center group?

Girdwood home owner and landlord
1 month ago
Reply to  GIRDWOOD LOCAL

Grace’s article has points I agree with as a Girdwood homeowner and landlord for 40 years. And there are points I disagree with. (I do not consider my second home — or any homes that might be built for weekender families — as wasteful. I do consider it lifesaving in so many ways for my family, especially after our school age kids lost their Mom to cancer.) For those who have attacked Grace’s motives, lay off. She’s not self-serving in this — she, like the rest of us, wants a better Girdwood.

Lynne' Doran
1 month ago

Good article and spot on. Land is finite and you only get one chance to develop it right. This project needs to go back to the drawing board and look to other ski resort towns and what they have done to help alieviate their affordable/workforce housing issues and apply them to Girdwood.

Areal Bilk
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

Lynne – how many short term rentals does your Alyeska Hideaway business own? 3? 4? Why are you against development and posting nonstop about affordable housing when you are actively running a short term rental business?

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

How many large developments have you done, sweetie? And Areal Bilk asks a good question about those rentals of yours. And do you worry that good builders will come into Girdwood and your husband will get left out? How many affordable housing developments has Doran Construction done?

Common Sense
1 month ago
Reply to  Truth Bomb

You’re an ass. Attacking other community members is cheap. Come with facts.

GoGIRDWOOD
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynne' Doran

Lynne is allowed to own a Bnb business, and did so before airbnb sucked all the air out of the room. It isn’t her responsibility to take her sole income and house people, but advocating that we do the development right, is her responsibility as a community member.

Areal Bilk
1 month ago
Reply to  GoGIRDWOOD

This is a classic Girdwood retort. Girdwood residents want one special set of rules for select residents and another set of rules for everyone else. Why should Lynne be able to run a BnB business but not others?

Common Sense
1 month ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

Lynne didn’t open her bnb business on public land, did she? We’re not asking for exceptions, we’re asking for the land to be used as it is intended.

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Common Sense

Municipal Entitlement Land is intended to fund the ops of HLB including improvements on other properties and execution of other projects, benefit ALL MOA residents, not just the 50 loudest in Girdwood, and promote orderly development which might look different than what you think it should and might not be in the local bartender or liftie’s price range. It might produce other benefits than the one you are focused on.

Leroy Cabana
1 month ago

The first question is why is public money for design cost and planning involved in what should be a simple bid on the surplus public land. In the real world where a fair level field is considered, public funds do not go to a developer. Second question is,, “affordable housing”, history has it a long box with wheels ” mobil home” or simple track modest housing. HLB holds the majority of developable land in Girdwood, HLB is a public trust, the surplus land should be offered in small enough parcels that real biding would occur between developers. It would not… Read more »

Truth Bomb
1 month ago
Reply to  Leroy Cabana

You can imagine mobile homes in Girdwood all day long but zoning code will laugh at you.

Sheryl
1 month ago

I could be wrong but I thought part off this land deal would include truly cost effective housing. This can be done effectively during the design process.