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We Build Alaska

To address Girdwood’s housing crisis, approve the Holtan Hills land disposal

Anchorage’s housing crisis permeates our news, our policy and even our politics. Driven by a variety of factors including sky-high interest rates, barriers to smaller construction types and, yes, too few homes being built each year, there is no doubt that the housing crisis is getting worse. Some of these issues, such as interest rates, are not readily solvable locally, but we can improve the climate for new construction.

Let’s face it, we do not build enough homes to satisfy the needs of the local population. This trend is palpable across the Municipality, but there are few communities where it is more pressing than in Girdwood. Unfortunately, the debate over Holtan Hills has been marred by falsehood, distortion and mean-spirited attacks on the project applicant, CY Investments. Despite the criticism, Holtan Hills is a thoughtful development concept that provides needed housing at different price points and is the logical extension of the Assembly’s recent actions. They should advance Holtan Hills now  by finally approving its land disposal.

As a resort community with seasonal residents, numerous absentee owners and short-term rentals, Girdwood’s housing problems are most severe at the bottom half of the market where affordable housing and starter homes are virtually nonexistent. One need only search real estate websites to see the dysfunction on display. As of the writing of this piece, the lowest priced Girdwood residential unit on Zillow is listed at more than $900,000. Critics of Holtan Hills argue that the unaffordable market is the very reason that Holtan Hills should be opposed, but this argument fails basic logic. How can you solve a crisis when your argument amounts to the notion that the very actions you want (more housing) will make matters worse?

If you listened to opponents, you would also never know that Holtan Hills was identified in the 1996 Girdwood Area Plan as the site of future residential communities. Yes, almost 30 years ago. In response, critics are forced to argue that the existing Girdwood plan is out of date, but that is akin to moving the goalposts to fit their objective. It is simply unrealistic to think that a developable piece of land like Holtan Hills, which is adjacent to an elementary school and near other development, would somehow be removed from a revised Area Plan. Are they suggesting instead that leapfrog development take place away from existing infrastructure and uses?

The proposed development is approximately 60 acres spanning three phases developed over several years. The first phase would deliver 58 residential units of various sizes and configurations, ranging from multi-family condos, duplexes, townhomes, accessory dwelling units and a limited number of large-lot single family homes. A multi-family lot has also been reserved for future community-based affordable housing—the first of its kind in Girdwood. Holtan Hills “mixed density” design is ideal precisely because it maximizes the use of limited land.

In recent years, the Assembly has worked hard to address the housing crisis head on and approving Holtan Hills would be consistent with these efforts. In December of 2022, the Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution that called for new housing “…of varied types, densities and price points.” Embedded here is the undeniable view that increasing the housing supply at all levels will provide the greatest chance to comfortably accommodate Anchorage’s population. The good news is that Holtan Hills addresses this need in the near term with the closest thing we have to “shovel ready” lots.

Just last month, the Assembly also adopted a new Housing Strategy Action Plan. Again, Holtan Hills helps achieve numerous objectives of the plan, including expanded participation of the private sector in the development and financing of infrastructure, increases in housing choice and more accessory dwelling units.

The longer we, as a Municipality, wait to act on the housing crisis, the worse the problems of inaction will be. Make no mistake; this is not just a Girdwood problem. It is an Anchorage problem with real impacts, especially for younger families and individuals just beginning their own residential journey.

Holtan Hills will not solve all the housing woes for Anchorage or for Girdwood. Truthfully, no project could do that. However, it is a far superior option to kicking the can down the road yet again and passing up the opportunity for more housing–including genuinely affordable units.

Eric Visser is the owner of Visser Construction, a homebuilder and General Contractor in Anchorage. He has previously served as president of the Home Builders Association for both Anchorage and the State of Alaska.

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Tucker
1 month ago

Let’s hope the dysfunctional assembly will get it right this time. After wasting so much time.

Chelsea H
1 month ago

Thanks for writing this, Eric. I have been extremely disappointed with how the Holtan Hills debacle has unfolded. To hear the Girdwood NIMBYs tell it, the best way to solve the housing crisis is to wait until someone… somehow… some way… just magically houses everyone else… somewhere, at no cost or inconvenience to anyone currently living in Girdwood. Talk about entitlement mixed with fantasy! Heaven forbid anyone else be able to buy a home there in “their” town. I too hope the Assembly makes the right call.

Kinsey
1 month ago

I used to be against holtan hills. alll the nimby people who say they don’t want it because girdwood needs workforce housing have lived there for 20+ years and bought houses when it was “affordable” and are squealing about workforce housing now… if they cared why haven’t they done anything the last 20 years? They really just care about their stupid failing VRBO’s and crazy Grace Pleasant is leading the pack.

Alaskan First
1 month ago

Girdwood:

We want cheap housing for our locals!

BUT

We will complain if any new development happens in the 99587.

At Review
1 month ago

All ready lost our family, to the Lower 48.

All development plans should START with affordable housing, then END with any high-end single family units, if available by demand.

The small parcel built out at the end of the project is simply counter to the community priorities. It only serves as a developer’s profit incentive.

Darren
1 month ago

I think the big issue is that it’s public land going to a private developer to reap the benefits and leave the locals with a mess

Bwaahaaaa duuude
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren

?

You mean more housing.

See… this is the Girdweed mindset. What a bunch of simpletons.

George
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren

Huh? Half of the profits from the project go back to Heritage Land Bank (aka taxpayers). Infrastructure on the property gets paid by the private developer. The ordinance requires that no short term rentals are there. GW gets a multi-unit affordable housing lot for free to build their own affordable unit. New tax dollars to support Girdwood Service Area. That mess?