Anchorage

Girdwood residents step up calls for worker housing in development that could transform community

Holtan Hills development, Girdwood, housing, homes, real estate

Girdwood residents are pressing for changes to a large housing development proposed last year by the Municipality of Anchorage and a private developer.

Holtan Hills would convert about 60 acres of wooded, city-owned land near Glacier Creek, northwest of the Alyeska ski resort, into more than 100 homes, townhouses and condominiums, project officials say.

The project is in an early phase, but plans call for the city’s Heritage Land Bank to transfer the land to CY Investments, owned by longtime realtor and residential land developer Connie Yoshimura. The company will prepare the land for sale to home builders of all types, providing financing to extend utilities and roads to lots, and creating a master plan. The city and company will split the net profits from the sale of the lots, according to a development agreement.

It could be Girdwood’s biggest housing development in decades, significantly increasing housing in the area, which now has a population of 2,000. Girdwood is part of the Municipality of Anchorage, but maintains its own identity and is a 45-minute drive from Anchorage itself.

Many residents say that as the project is proposed, it will not meet Girdwood’s most pressing need — providing dwellings that local workers can afford.

“We’re seeing friends who have lived here for a decade or more being pushed out of the community, and we’re seeing the hollowing out of the community, and that’s a very unpleasant experience,” said Mike Edgington, head of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. “Many people fear they’ll be next or their friends will be next.”

Holtan Hills development, Girdwood, housing, homes, real estate

The five-member board, the local governing body for the community, passed a resolution on July 18 calling for assurances that the project will provide “workforce and mid-income housing.”

“We want something in writing,” Edgington said, including potentially amending the development agreement.

Yoshimura and Adam Trombley, director of Anchorage’s Office of Economic and Community Development, said they’re open to exploring options.

“I would hope that the community understands that, as developer, I have no desire to create something that’s not going to be compatible with Girdwood,” said Yoshimura, accompanied by Trombley on Monday for an interview in her Anchorage offices.

‘Halt Holtan Hills!’ signs pop up

Like other Alaska communities, Girdwood faces soaring home prices and rental rates, reducing living options for workers ranging from restaurant employees to teachers. The problem is especially dire in Girdwood, residents say, with its huge proportion of second homes and vacation rentals. Single-family home prices top $600,000, more than 50% higher than the statewide average.

[Some Alaska workers are facing a crisis in housing. Employers hope that if they build it, employees will come.]

Tensions over Holtan Hills have flared to rarely seen levels in Girdwood, residents say. Yard signs have cropped up saying “Halt Holtan Hills! Girdwood deserves a better deal.”

Holtan Hills development, Girdwood, housing, homes, real estate

Lynné Doran helped initiate the sign protest. But she wants to see Holtan Hills amended, rather than canceled, to guarantee affordable housing for workers, she said.

“This project is huge, and if it’s not done correctly, it will negatively impact the town,” Doran said.

Edgington said the scale of Holtan Hills is enormous. It would be like adding perhaps 20,000 housing units to Anchorage, he said.

The Girdwood board recently created the Holtan Hills Housing Advisory Committee to dig deeper into the issue and pursue potential solutions.

Yoshimura said she recently met with two members of the group. They discussed ways to add more housing to reduce costs, such as converting an eight-plex into a 10-plex, she said.

Trombley said he’ll take future committee recommendations to see what can legally be done.

“Girdwood is obviously very informed,” he said. “They’re very knowledgeable, they care deeply about their community about preserving the elements of their community that make it unique. We understand that, and of course, we want to make sure that we don’t do anything to disturb that.”

Trombley said the initial step in the three-phase, multiyear project might consist of 70 to 80 units, though the project is complex and details change often. Groundbreaking to start extending utilities might take place next year, he said.

The Anchorage Assembly must approve the land disposal.

Yoshimura said the first phase includes single-family homes on different-sized lots, plus multiplexes and condominiums.

She said the lowest-priced unit could cost $500,000, based on today’s prices for materials and other home-building expenses. That entry-level, two-bedroom, two-bath condominium, between 900 to 1,000 square feet, includes shared garage space and a covered deck.

Trombley and Yoshimura say the potential costs can be lowered if affordable housing providers buy some lots and build housing.

Trombley also said some people might be overlooking the benefits to Girdwood, including that the new homes can open existing units as some residents move to Holtan Hills. The project will also increase tax revenue and more residents will support local businesses, he said.

[Girdwood desperately needs housing. A veteran developer aims to help, but residents have many questions.]

Holtan Hills development, Girdwood, housing, homes, real estate

Project opponents say a $500,000 condo isn’t affordable for many workers. Edgington said there’s nothing in the agreement to guarantee that affordable housing providers will want in, to lower prices. He said residents fear any benefit will be offset by increased demand on services.

Edgington also said there’s a variety of views on the project. Some are OK with the status quo: They might sell their house and benefit from high prices.

But based on a widely attended June town hall, most residents oppose the project in its current form, he said.

Personally, he wants an incentive or requirement to ensure some of the housing is reserved for full-time residents, he said.

Business owners speak out

Business owners, some prevented from fully operating because they can’t find workers locally, have spoken out in letters to the board.

Amanda Tuttle, CoasT Pizza owner, said she wants the project scrapped. The city hasn’t properly followed public comment procedures, she asserted.

She had to plead on Facebook to find a place for one longtime worker after his landlord decided to sell the residence. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays because there aren’t enough workers in town, she said.

“We all want development here, but here’s the thing: We want sustainable development,” she said.

This is my employee Dennis; he does not have social media but he is looking for a place to live in Girdwood. Dennis has...

Posted by CoasT Pizza on Saturday, June 11, 2022

Trombley said the project has met code requirements for communicating with the public. He acknowledged the communication could have been better.

“I stand by my decision to do it this way,” he said. “Because I think going to the community with too much changing information is not fair to them.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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