Halting Holtan Hills

Halting Holtan Hills

How a small group of Girdwood’s most privileged residents manipulated Anchorage community councils to help shut down a long-overdue housing development

An Alaska Landmine special feature by Paxson Woelber

April 17, 2023

On January 26, David Nyman, Krystal Hoke, and Matt Schechter went before Anchorage’s South Addition Community Council meeting with a desperate plea: they needed the South Addition CC to help them kill Holtan Hills, an immense housing development threatening to strangle their resort hamlet of Girdwood with $1.5 million residences and “very expensive condos that nobody can afford.”

According to Nyman, an erroneous appraisal and corrupt development agreement between the Anchorage Municipality’s Heritage Land Bank (HLB) and developer CY Investments were poised to give away 448 acres of public land in Girdwood, which sits just inside the southeast corner of the Municipality, for “a mere $23,000 an acre.” Nyman stated that this deal included lands next to the Alyeska Resort hotel and tram. “It’d almost be like a bank robbery,” Nyman implored.

None of this was true.

The real Holtan Hills housing development was a small fraction of the 448 acres claimed by Nyman. The development would contain lots for a variety of housing types, including 8-plexes and affordable housing. Lands near the Alyeska Resort Hotel were not part of the development and had not been appraised at $23,000 an acre–they had not been appraised as part of the deal at all. In fact, the development agreement referred to by Nyman did not even call for selling land to a developer.

But members of the South Addition CC, which that day included several savvy politicos and a former high-level municipal government official, found the presentation convincing. The council waived their policy to wait until the next meeting before voting on new items, and voted 5-0, with one abstention, to pass a resolution calling for the Assembly to halt the project.

What happened at the South Addition CC repeated across many of the Municipality’s 37 community councils. Following impassioned presentations by a small group of Girdwood residents, many councils swiftly passed resolutions–often unanimously–condemning Holtan Hills. On February 7, the Anchorage Assembly voted 7-5 not to debate the land disposal required for the project to proceed, effectively tabling it. Assembly members who voted to stymie the development citied a range of factors, including community opposition.

“I feel that this project is not in line with the needs of this community,” said Kameron Perez-Verdia, who voted to halt the project.

Now, a review of meeting recordings, minutes, and e-mails by the Alaska Landmine has found that Holtan Hills opponents made a staggering number of false and misleading claims about the development when lobbying Anchorage community councils, brazenly misrepresenting subjects ranging from the size of the development to the type of housing in it, as well as basic facts about the development agreement.

The Landmine’s investigation reveals the lengths to which some of Girdwood’s wealthiest residents, including owners of multiple homes and a rival developer, went to shut down the most significant effort in decades to bring new mixed-density housing to the increasingly exclusive resort enclave. It also raises questions about the ability of Anchorage community councils to consider multiple sides of complex subjects and critically assess information before taking actions that could significantly impact the future of the municipality.

I

“What I heard constantly was flat out lies”

Claims about the size and location of the Holtan Hills development

On January 12, Girdwood residents Krystal Hoke, Grace Pleasants, and Jennifer Wingard presented to the Rabbit Creek Community Council. Prior to the meeting, Pleasants sent the Rabbit Creek CC an email, copied to Hoke and Wingard, describing Holtan Hills as a “for-profit development of over 400+ acres.” At the meeting, Hoke stated that the municipality had abruptly amended a planning document to make a 400-acre parcel of public land in Girdwood available for the Holtan Hills development, eliciting an incredulous “sssh!” from one Rabbit Creek CC board member. “That parcel is so large,” Hoke said, “and spans around our elementary school, our airport, and all the way to the base of our resort.”

Hoke later stated that Holtan Hills was 60 acres, adding that the size of the third phase of the project was unknown and that it was “very open-ended to how large this development could get.”

In response to inquiries from Rabbit Creek CC members, Pleasants claimed that the size of the first phase of the Holtan Hills project was unknown, and that the development could ultimately reach “as much as 400-plus acres.”

“That is larger than what Girdwood is today,” she said.

The Rabbit Creek CC, widely known as one of Anchorage’s most active and diligent community councils, immediately voted 14-0, with one abstention, to endorse a resolution opposing Holtan Hills. A January 26 Rabbit Creek CC letter explaining the council’s objections to the project cited “400 acres of public land to be sold or transferred.”

Warnings about a potential 400-acre mega-development were ubiquitous at community council presentations made by Holtan Hills opponents. Speaking to the Mountain View Community Council on January 11, David Nyman claimed that the city had entered into an agreement to “give this developer more than 400 acres, 400 acres plus.”

“Don’t give 450 acres to someone with no plan,” Nyman pleaded to the Mountain View CC.

Compilation of claims that the Holtan Hills development was over 400 acres

In fact, all three phases of the development totaled approximately 60 acres and were located within a well-defined area immediately northeast of Girdwood Elementary School, between Glacier Creek and Crow Creek Road. The 400-plus-acre figure cited by project opponents appears to refer to the total size of the municipal-owned Heritage Land Bank (HLB) tracts from which the development would be carved. Because CY Investments had contractually agreed to take responsibility for pre-development tasks like adjusting easements, rezoning, and replatting, the entire acreage of the three tracts had to be disposed of to the developer. Once these tasks were complete, only approximately 60 acres would remain available to CY Investments for the Holtan Hills development itself. The rest of the acreage–about 389 acres–would revert to municipal ownership via HLB.

Project opponents who presented to Anchorage community councils had long had access to planning documents accurately showing the size, location, and scope of the development. The Holtan Hills development agreement, dated April 22, 2022 and made public a month later, described the project as a three-phase residential development in a discreet area depicted in an attached map.


Exhibit B from the Holtan Hills development agreement

Girdwood’s civic entities expressed little confusion about the size of the project. Girdwood Inc., a nonprofit organization that works on range of community causes, described Holtan Hills as a “60 acre development” in a website post dated June 2022. The Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS), an elected body that functions similarly to an Anchorage community council, included preliminary plat maps depicting each phase of the development in its June 20, 2022 and July 18, 2022 meeting packets.

The July 18 map includes a list of the acreage of each development phase. The total project size is given as 60.1 acres.

Preliminary project maps from June and July GBOS meeting packets. To see a closeup of the acreage description from the July 2022 meeting map, click here.

On July 18, 2022, a representative of the Boutet Company, a consulting firm representing both the Municipality and the developer, CY Investments, traveled to Girdwood to present on the project and answer questions. According to a July 26, 2022 summary of the meeting, Boutet presented to 30 people and repeatedly explained that CY Investments would not retain ownership or control of more than 60 acres once the land was replatted.

The November 9 Assembly Ordinance authorizing the Holtan Hills disposal defined the scope of the project and included a preliminary plat map showing the full extent of the lands to be developed. On February 7, the S-2 version of the ordinance authorizing the disposal added an explicit description of the acreage to be disposed of in each phase of the project.

Description of the acreage in the Holtan Hills disposal, added to the S-2 version of the ordinance

Shelley Rowton, who worked as an HLB land management officer when the Holtan Hills contract was awarded, told the Landmine that those who claimed CY Investments could surreptitiously develop lands in excess of those specified “didn’t understand the process and the legal mechanisms at work. And also,” added Rowton, “it was to their benefit to push that narrative.”

Adam Trombley, who spent over a year working on the Holtan Hills project as the Municipality’s executive director of community development, told the Landmine that dire warnings of a 400-acre development were part of a long pattern of dishonesty by Holtan Hills opponents. Trombley pointed to a 2022 Assembly work session presentation he said he shared in person with Girdwood residents, which included a page specifying the project acreage and stating that the remaining land would remain in HLB inventory.

Trombley told the Landmine that no matter how many times he shared information with Holtan Hills opponents, they persisted in spreading misinformation.

“What I heard constantly was flat-out lies about Holtan Hills,” said Trombley. “Those folks–Grace Pleasants, Dave Nyman–they were not interested in hearing the truth.”

Claims about the type of housing in the development

Across community council meetings, project opponents characterized the residences planned for Holtan Hills as prohibitively expensive. The development would be “million-dollar homes” with no low-income housing, David Nyman told the Mountain View CC on January 11. “This developer knows how to build big houses,” Nyman said. According to meeting minutes, on the same day Matt Schechter told the Midtown Community Council that “there is no affordable work-force housing in the development.” On January 26, Schechter told the South Addition CC that the proposal made “no mention of affordable housing.”

In fact, all stages of the development process–from the request for proposals (RFP) to the winning proposal to the development agreement–called for single family lots in a range of sizes, multifamily lots, and for land that could be developed into affordable housing. CY Investments would not be building “big houses,” or houses of any size. The development agreement required that lots be sold to builders at market rate.

Per the RFP and other planning documents, single-family lots were designed to allow the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), secondary housing units that are typically smaller and significantly more affordable to rent than primary units. CY Investments agreed to pursue a Conditional Use Permit for a Planned Unit Development (CUP-PUD) that would authorize development at higher densities than those allowed under current zoning.

“This whole idea that it was gonna be all million-dollar homes was complete horseshit,” Trombley told the Landmine. “The whole idea of doing a PUD development was to allow for density.”


Holtan Hills schematic

Multifamily lots would be available for purchase by an affordable/community housing entity, thereby fulfilling, to the satisfaction of HLB, the RFP requirement that the project provide for the creation of affordable housing. Moreover, the S version of the Holtan Hills disposal ordinance, dated December 6, 2022, stipulated that one large multifamily lot be given to an entity chosen by GBOS for development of affordable/community housing. The S-1 version mandated that the designated lot contain at least eight housing units.

Though Nyman repeatedly dismissed the S-1 version of the ordinance as “putting lipstick on a pig,” it constituted the first viable effort in decades to guarantee land for affordable housing in Girdwood.

Claims of corruption and sole-source contracts

Holtan Hills opponents alleged that the winning team had received special treatment and a sole-source contract to sell lots in the development. Speaking to the Mountain View CC on January 11, David Nyman described the development agreement as consisting of “backroom, sweetheart deals.” Jennifer Wingard echoed Nyman’s claims at the Rabbit Creek CC’s January 12 meeting, alleging that a “sweetheart, backheart [sic], backdoor deal” had only been given to “one developer.”

In an email sent to multiple community Councils, Grace Pleasants claimed that the municipality had awarded Dwell Realty a sole-source contract to sell lots and manage the Holtan Hills HOA. Dwell Realty is a real estate management company owned by Connie Yoshimura, who also owns CY Investments.

Excerpt of Grace Pleasants' January 3, 2023 letter to the HCC, claiming that the sale of lots in Holtan Hills had been awarded via a sole source contractExcerpt of Grace Pleasants’ January 3, 2023 letter to the HCC, alleging that the right to sell developed lots in Holtan Hills and manage the homeowners association had been awarded via a “sole source contract”

In an April 7 phone call, Municipal Purchasing Director Rachelle Alger told the Landmine that she could not locate any sole-source contracts related to Holtan Hills awarded to Dwell Realty.

In response to claims about corruption and sole source contracts, Trombley pointed to the winning proposal submitted by CY Investments and its partners, which proposed that the developers would “market and sell lots to individual builders and private party buyers,” and that Dwell Realty would take responsibility for creating and managing the HOA. Far from being a back room deal, Trombley explained, that proposal had won in a competitive public bidding process.

Trombley told the Landmine that project opponents had been told many times–and understood–how the RFP had been awarded, and were referencing sole source contracts “as a buzzword.”

Project opponents also cited the structure of the development agreement, which called for a joint venture between HLB and CY Investments, as evidence of impropriety. But this structure, Trombley said, was approved by the Department of Law and explicitly supported in the current Crow Creek Neighborhood Land Use Plan, which had been put in place by the community of Girdwood itself.


Options for developing land in Girdwood, as specified by the 2006 Crow Creek Neighborhood Land Use Plan

Claims about project utilities

At the January 12 Rabbit Creek CC meeting, Jennifer Wingard alleged that CY Investments had been offered an exclusive deal to have “HLB do their infrastructure work for them.” On January 3, Pleasants told the Spenard Community Council that the “the development agreement calls for the city of Anchorage to be on the hook to put all of the infrastructure in this development,” a claim she repeated in emails to other community councils.

Excerpt of Grace Pleasants’ January 3, 2023 letter to the HCC, falsely claiming that the Municipality would be responsible for “all infrastructure” in Holtan Hills

In fact, the development agreement stipulated that CY Investments, and not the Municipality, would be responsible for infrastructure within the project area. Infrastructure responsibilities included those related to water, sewer, internet, electricity, and roadways, as well as work to accommodate topography and wetlands.

Again, Trombley pointed out, responsibilities for utilities had been assigned in conjunction with the public RFP process and negotiated during the crafting of the development agreement. Rowton told the Landmine that the HLB had always expected to have to pay to extend utilities to the edge of the Holtan Hills tract, particularly because they had not been extended when the adjacent elementary school was built. What HLB had not expected, Rowton said, was to sign a deal in which it could extend utilities to the development and still make a modest profit.

False and misleading claims about the assessed value of the land

Holtan Hills opponents were incensed by a January 7, 2022 appraisal of a 90 acre area that would ultimately contain the 60-acre development. The appraisal, conducted by MacSwain Associates LLC, valued the 90 acres at $2,100,000, or $23,000 an acre.

“Who would like to buy land at $23,000 an acre in Girdwood?” David Nyman told the TCC. “I sure would.”

In at least two community council meetings, project opponents claimed that they had engaged the services of a forensic accountant, who had studied the development agreement and concluded that the appraisal had been deeply flawed.

The “forensic accountant” was Matt Schechter, himself a prominent member of the group of Girdwood residents attempting to shut down Holtan Hills. A biography for Schechter, who works as a financial analyst for Arbor Capitol, states that he “focused for 15 years on forensic accounting research at Balyasny Asset Management and CFRA Research in Chicago, IL.”

In his January 26 presentation to the South Addition CC, Schechter explained his appraisal methodology. Schechter said that he referred to sale prices of nearby 1-2 acre off-grid parcels and determined that the land slated for Holtan Hills should have been appraised at $100,000-200,000 an acre.

Forensic accountant Matt Schechter explains his land appraisal process to the South Addition CC

Real estate professionals consulted by the Landmine described Schechter’s methodology as amateurish. Land appraisal is dependent on a large number of factors, the Landmine was told, including the number of potential buyers and the costs associated with developing the land into its “highest and best” use. For example, as the size of a tract goes up, the cost per acre almost always goes down–along with the number of potential buyers.

“That’s appraisal 101,” said Shelley Rowton, the former HLB land management officer.

The MacSwain and Associates appraisal did not value the 90 acres according to Schechter’s methods, which inferred that the land would be best used as large low-density lots without complete access to utilities. Rather, it appraised the land based on its use for a modern subdivision requiring many millions of dollars of investment to bring in utilities, build roads, and perform other necessary development tasks. The appraisal also noted the presence of extensive wetlands, which constituted approximately a third of the assessed area.

Ivar Halverson, who is listed as the contact for the Alaska Association of Assessing Officers (AAAO) licensing program, told the Landmine that appraisers are licensed by the state and must adhere to strict professional standards in order to maintain their licensure. Halverson noted that everyone is entitled to have an opinion on the value of land, but said that “unless you have another appraisal out there, it’s hard to counter what the appraiser has done. People are invested in their opinions and unless they’re fully knowledgeable of the process, sometimes their opinions don’t hold a lot of water.”

Halverson told the Landmine that Schechter did not appear to hold any licenses to appraise land. Matthew Kolesky, the President and CCO of Arbor Capital Management, told the Landmine that Arbor does not provide land valuation services and described Schechter’s attempts to value land as a “personal” endeavor.

Even if the valuation were off, it may not have mattered, Rowton told the Landmine. Though Nyman, Schechter, and others seemed to believe that the land for Holtan Hills was being sold to CY Investments, the development agreement actually called for the land to be disposed of to the developer at no cost, and for the developer and HLB to split the profits from lot sales.

“It was never an outright sale,” explained Rowton. “It was a development agreement.”

Matt Schechter declined multiple requests to comment for this story.

II

“I’m a member of a, a kind of an advocacy group…”

In addition to promoting factual errors about the development itself, presentations to Anchorage community councils were marred by false statements and misunderstandings about whether speakers were acting as individuals or on behalf of Girdwood organizations–if not the entire community.

Speaking to the Spenard CC in January, Grace Pleasants claimed to be a member of “an advocacy group in Girdwood today, made up of the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce, Girdwood Inc.,” and unnamed community leaders and residents. These claims were repeated in introductory emails to Anchorage community councils, along with claims that Pleasants was writing on behalf of the “Girdwood Community.”

However, the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce told the Landmine that they had not engaged any community councils regarding Holtan Hills and had not authorized any individual to speak on their behalf. Girdwood Inc. told the Landmine that they had not participated in any community council presentations and that they did not have a formal position on Holtan Hills.

Grace Pleasants declined multiple requests for comment for this story.

On December 14, 2022, Federation of Community Councils (FCC) Manager Mark Butler sent an email to Community Council officers claiming that “the Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS) is asking all community councils to put the issue of the proposed Holtan Hills land disposal in Girdwood onto their council agendas.” The email encouraged officers to reach out to “Grace or GBOS directors” for more information.

Less than two hours later, GBOS Co-Chair Mike Edgington responded that GBOS “has made no such request of the FCC or of other Community Councils,” and that the request had apparently originated from “one Girdwood resident who has no association with GBOS and has never been elected to the body.” Edgington demanded that Butler retract his email, which he did the following evening.

Despite the retraction, some community council officers continued to believe that Holtan Hills opponents were acting on behalf of GBOS. The Rabbit Creek CC’s anti-Holtan Hills letter claimed that Wingard had spoken to their community council as a “representative” of GBOS, and Abbott Loop Community Council’s January meeting minutes noted a presentation by “Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS)- Grace, resident of Girdwood.”

On February 8, the Eklutna Valley Community Council unanimously approved a letter in opposition to Holtan Hills incorrectly claiming that “the Girdwood Board of Supervisors has asked for support from other community councils.” Reached via email, Eklutna Valley CC President Rick Sinnott took responsibility for the council’s error, stating that it was due to confusion over the “unauthorized request for support from ‘Grace’,” and an unrelated request from GBOS to use 23 acres of HLB land in Girdwood for a cemetery.

Mark Butler declined multiple requests to comment for this story.

III

“Luxurious Comfort”

At the January 11 Mountain View CC meeting, David Nyman claimed that housing in Holtan Hills would be too expensive, falsely stating that only “million-dollar homes” would be built. Nyman also expressed anxiety that housing could be rented using short-term rental services like VRBO. “One of the things we’re trying to do is have covenants in that area so they aren’t all VRBO’d out,” Nyman said.

Despite his professed disapproval of expensive housing and short-term rentals, municipal records show that Nyman and his wife own millions of dollars of Anchorage real estate, including a home in Turnagain, an undeveloped property in Girdwood, a Girdwood duplex, and a Girdwood residence that Nyman operates as a short-term rental on VRBO.

A listing for Nyman’s short-term rental promises “luxurious comfort” for business executives, with “multiple leather sofas and chaise lounges” and accommodations for a “security detail.” The residence is currently listed for $560 a night, fees included, with a minimum booking of four nights.

David Nyman’s luxury short-term Girdwood rental. An adjacent property, also owned by Nyman, is undeveloped.

Nyman is not the only critic of Holtan Hills to publicly decry the very economic activities he is privately engaged in. In fact, nearly all of those who presented to Anchorage community councils appear to own a significant amount of lucrative Anchorage real estate, including rental properties.

Jennifer Wingard, who warned the Rabbit Creek CC on January 12 that Holtan Hills would be developed into “million-dollar house-shaped objects,” owns or co-owns at least six residential units in the Anchorage municipality, including a residence in Girdwood assessed at $960,000 (the market value is likely far higher). Wingard’s other holdings include a Girdwood duplex and an Anchorage triplex, which are owned via Silent 57 LLC and the Hatch Wingard Revocable Trust. LLCs and trusts are often used by property owners to reduce liabilities and taxes.

Wingard told the Rabbit Creek CC that she also “has an Anchorage cabin,” which she lives in for much of the year. A source told the Landmine that Wingard rents her “cabin” as a short-term rental.

Jennifer Wingard declined multiple requests to comment for this story.

IV

“She missed it”

Grace Pleasants owns her Girdwood residence via an entity called Chez Neige Trust, which owns a second property in midtown Anchorage. Pleasants also appears to reside in Washington State for part of the year, though it is unclear whether she owns an additional residence there. A 2017 Seattle Times article describes Pleasants as a resident of Tacoma, Washington.

Multiple sources told the Landmine that Pleasants has long had an acrimonious professional rivalry with Connie Yoshimura, the owner of CY Investments. And while Pleasants repeatedly invoked her experience as a developer to community councils, left undisclosed was a string of failed multi-million-dollar projects in Alaska and Washington State. According to a 2012 article in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, Pleasants and another developer inked a deal with the city of Tacoma in which vacant public lands would be developed into a parking garage and 68 market-rate apartments owned by Pleasants and her co-developer. But, the article says, the duo defaulted on the agreement when they failed to secure financing. According to an article published later that year in the Tacoma Daily Index, a separate Tacoma residential project managed by Pleasants was foreclosed on after buckling under “$2.7 million in loans, unpaid interest, court costs, and attorney fees.”

In 2015, a luxury condo building project in Anchorage co-led by Pleasants was foreclosed on after allegedly racking up millions in unexplained construction costs. A contractor working on the project told the Anchorage Daily News that it had been sunk by “fraud or mismanagement.”

Pleasants’ 68-unit Tacoma project was not her last attempt to use public lands for private development. According to minutes from a 2016 Girdwood Land Use Committee (LUC) meeting, Pleasants proposed a public/private partnership to build 100 residential units on public lands in Girdwood, in part using federal funds. That proposal, too, fell apart.

Shelley Rowton told the Landmine that while working for HLB, Pleasants had repeatedly called and berated her for hours about the development agreement and RFP process. According to Rowton, Pleasants had been living in her Washington State residence when the RFP was issued and was furious that she had not learned about it until after it had been awarded.

“Eventually I figured out she was out of town. She missed it,” said Rowton. “She always thought that she would be the person to get something done in Girdwood.”

V

“I think we probably all got fooled a bit”

Following a misinformation-riddled January 26 presentation by David Nyman to the South Addition CC, President John Thurbur explained that the council typically did not vote on resolutions the same day they were introduced. “So this would come up again next month,” he said.

After a question-and-answer session, council member Sami Graham, Mayor Bronson’s former chief of staff, urged the council to take up the resolution immediately. Graham cited the upcoming Assembly vote and a desire to have the reciprocal support of Girdwood for their community council. Thurbur pushed back. “My concern is this is quite complicated,” he said, “and I’m not sure if everyone has had enough time to really digest it, to understand which way they want to vote.”

The South Addition CC voted to hold the vote that night. The resolution opposing Holtan Hills passed 5-0, with one abstention.

The rushed process at the South Addition CC was mirrored at other community councils. Spenard Community Council member Yarrow Silvers, who was the sole “no” on the Spenard CC’s Holtan Hills resolution, told the Landmine, “I had read through the municipal website on Holtan Hills previously, and when Grace was giving the presentation, I recognized some factual errors. I was unable to fact-check in real time, though, so I didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.”

The Spenard CC voted 12-1 to approve a resolution opposing Holtan Hills.

Stephanie Qunn-Davidson, who serves as a board member at large for the Turnagain Community Council, told the Landmine that the rushed process and one-sided presentation preceding their council’s Holtan Hills resolution were emblematic of activity at the council–and that this was a feature, not a bug. According to Quinn-Davidson, presenters often bring “pet projects” to the Turnagain CC, and seek to quickly push them through without allowing debate, analysis, or discussion that could derail their efforts.

Quinn-Davidson told the Landmine that she was upset that nobody from the municipality had been invited to the Turnagain CC meeting to provide an alternate perspective, adding that she was frustrated with David Nyman’s failure to disclose his ownership of a luxury Girdwood short-term rental. “I don’t think David was being very genuine about his actual concerns,” she said.

Quinn-Davidson explained that she saw Nyman’s efforts as part of a well-established pattern of older, wealthier residents using the community councils to entrench their economic self-interest at the expense of others. “We are taking these NIMBY actions with our council without really sitting down and having a conversation about what our community needs,” she said.

Tod Butler (no relation to Mark), the president of the Turnagain Arm Community Council, told the Landmine that Grace Pleasants had seemed honest and “down to earth” when discussing Holtan Hills. But when Pleasants began speaking about HLB and aspects of the development agreement, Butler said he became uncomfortable with what he called “conspiracy theories.”

“I think we probably all got fooled a bit,” Butler told the Landmine.

VI

“I won’t say it’s perfect, but there’s quite a bit done”

The Turnagain Arm CC ultimately decided not to vote on resolution related to Holtan Hills. The Abbott Loop CC, Mountain View CC, and others similarly declined to vote on resolutions.

Gretchen Stoddard, who serves as both the chair of the Federation of Community Councils and president of the Huffman-O’Malley Community Council, told the Landmine that she had never seen a group as persistent about presenting to their council as the Girdwood residents opposed to Holtan Hills. Stoddard described their outreach as, “Continued pressure: ‘no, we need it now, here’s a sample resolution, use this.’”

Stoddard said that a presentation on January 19, led by Girdwood resident Kellie Okonek, left some council members uneasy. Members expressed a desire to hear another viewpoint, she said, and one shared that “A couple things in there didn’t sound quite right.”

The Huffman-O’Malley CC decided not to consider a resolution.

Stoddard described the lobbying effort by Girdwood residents as “really unusual.”  Community councils generally focus on issues affecting their own neighborhoods, she said, and provide an opportunity for council members to bring detailed knowledge and firsthand experience to small, receptive groups of neighbors. Stoddard recognized the limitations of the community council system: they depend on volunteer leadership, record-keeping is inconsistent, and uneven participation can make them vulnerable to takeovers by fringe groups. Stoddard noted that community council resolutions are only advisory, and that elected officials are not bound to follow them. But when community councils are functioning well, she said, they can provide citizens a low-barrier way to interface with elected officials and work productively on local issues.

“That kind of thing, it truly does make a difference,” Stoddard said. “I won’t say it’s perfect, but there’s quite a bit done.”

VII

“I can’t think of a reason why I would throw in the towel”

Anchorage Assembly member Daniel Volland, who was among the five members to vote against the motion to table Holtan Hills, told the Landmine that he hopes community councils can play a positive role in addressing Anchorage’s housing shortage.

“It’s a huge part of why working-age people are leaving our city,” Volland said. “Community councils should be looking at how they can accommodate more neighbors. If you love your neighborhood, you should invite other people to live there and love it too.”

Volland told the Landmine that he believes the Assembly has acted to empower Girdwood to steer the future of the community. “That being said,” he added, “I feel Holtan Hills remains a missed opportunity.”

On April 10, Girdwood’s GBOS Land Use Committee unanimously voted to initiate a request that the Assembly and HLB dissolve the Holtan Hills development agreement. But the HLB tracts remain under contract to CY Investments until 2025, and celebrations of the project’s death may be premature.

On April 3, the Alaska Landmine spoke with Connie Yoshimura, the owner of CY Investments. Yoshimura said that she is familiar with the community council system and has engaged with councils many times. “You have to understand neighbors’ concerns and appreciate that. But,” she added, “this was something different.”

Yoshimura told the Landmine that the Holtan Hills project had long been bedeviled by misinformation. “I think there were a lot of misconceptions that were spread,” she said. “And a lot of erroneous information that was presented, in various forms, that was inaccurate.”

The housing crisis in Girdwood that Holtan Hills was designed to address, Yoshimura said, affects the entire Anchorage municipality. And, she explained, it will only become worse as the recently-approved Willow oil development brings more workers and their families to Anchorage. “I’ve been in business for forty years,” Yoshimura said. “It’s the worst housing shortage I’ve ever seen.”

Asked whether she was still interested in pursuing the Holtan Hills development if the project is resurrected by the Anchorage Assembly, she responded that she was.

“I can’t think of a reason why I would throw in the towel at this point in time,” she said.

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Gnome
1 year ago

One more thing not included here: these Girdwood folks were raising hell about the fact that the original developer team that won the RFP (CY Investments, Pomeroy, and Anderson) dissolved and Holtan Hills proceeded as a JV between CY and HLB. What basically happened is that the development done by CY (Holtan Hills) got separated out from efforts by Pomeroy to develop resort employee housing. Nothing about Holtan Hills substantially changed, it just made sense to proceed with those two components separately. That’s the gist of it, anyway. It wasn’t a “bait and switch,” as claimed in the G Pleasants… Read more »

Not even a Bronson voter
1 year ago

I don’t care about the councils but it is beyond pathetic that the Assembly let themselves get duped by these rich dumb Girdwood clowns. I heard all of these lies over and over and over again, why did they never get called out before? This is why people feel that they can’t trust city government. Torpedoing this deal was a huge mistake that sends a signal to developers that Anchorage does not want or support development, even if you do everything right to make it happen. I truly hope that this decision can be undone. Is there any way to… Read more »

Areal Bilk
1 year ago

Interesting that this comes out on the same day that select Girdwood residents are ramping up messaging for the latest housing proposal. The resort has submitted a proposal to subdivide a lot adjacent to the upper parking lot and announced they want to build employee housing in that zone – however people are already refining messaging so they can block it (increase traffic”, “reduce parking”, “avalanche risk”).

Anchorage resident
1 year ago

Tortious interference lawsuit against Pleasants incoming in 3… 2… 1…

Lovewinter
1 year ago

Great work Paxson. Shine a light on hypocrisy and misinformation.

Tom
1 year ago

But did the development in Hilton Hills ever balance out longterm? Would the new tax dollars have accounted for the immediate and ongoing maintenance and infrastructure costs that would begin past construction? Or was it just part of the ongoing growth Ponzi schemes so many cities are involved in.

AK Pbear
1 year ago

Go talk to the owners of Powder Hound in Girdwood about the project they tried to put in before the “Girdwood Community” came to the rescue and got it shut down. You’ll learn everything you need to know about how much Girdwood actually cares about housing (hint: it doesn’t).

Nick Crews
1 year ago

Holtan Hills would not have addressed the housing crisis. The normal market rules of increased supply -> less shortage don’t apply in desirable resort towns. You can’t just build houses to get out of this hole. You need intentional, focused ordinances. Take Crested Butte for example: Any new construction is now required to also build an ADU for long-term rentals. This will actually increase housing stock in the sector that needs it. Or, as Vail has done, provide cash incentives for homeowners to add deed restrictions to their home so that they cannot short-term rent. We can’t leave this up… Read more »

David Nyman's FB account
1 year ago

David Nyman just sent a letter to all community councils about this article. Below is an excerpt from the 5 page letter: As I am not accustomed to being smeared by a Blogger for community outreach efforts, I am compelled to provide Community Councils with this response. The Blogger is coordinating closely with Chris Constant and others who represent the parties that would be enriched by the Holtan Hills development. In addition to the persons smeared in the Blog, they are now attacking a Girdwood member of the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission. The misrepresentations and attacks orchestrated by this… Read more »

Trevor Kauffman
1 year ago
Reply to  Paxson Woelber

Paxson, you have done an impressive amount of research for this article. I will say that from my perspective over the last year or so, the Landmine’s coverage of this issue has shown a consistent bias, favoring the HH development and – in very Landmine fashion- going past the point of polite professional discourse, ridiculing and reviling opponents of Holtan Hills in ways that seem to attack their personal character. Jeff does this more than you, but sheesh. How about a little more gracious and objective analysis here? Housing developments are almost always controversial and for good reason. Real estate… Read more »

Karen Zaccaro
1 year ago

My question is, what is your motivation for writing such a one sided piece?
Who benefits from your participation in the bullying of Girdwood community members who lent their voice to a broad based community concerns?

Jim Wilke
1 year ago
Reply to  Karen Zaccaro

Bullying? Expressing an opposing view is bullying?

Girdwood
1 year ago

Girdwood needs housing. People have to live somewhere. Thanks

Girdwood Community
5 months ago

This is an incredible takedown of some of the most entitled, arrogant people in Anchorage. Wingard should have been removed from GBOS for participating in this. Just absolutely pathetic and embarrassing on every level (though very satisfying to see them called out in public for their shitty behavior).