Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly to vote on controversial Girdwood housing development

january, development, housing, girdwood

The Anchorage Assembly is set to decide on Tuesday whether it will approve the sale of a large chunk of city-owned land in Girdwood for a proposed large-scale housing development in a deal brokered between the municipality and a private developer.

The proposed land transfer would be a major step toward realizing the biggest housing development in Girdwood in decades. If denied, it would likely mark the end of the Holtan Hills development.

If Assembly members approve the land disposal on Tuesday, the city’s Heritage Land Bank would then transfer the land to CY Investments, a company owned by longtime Anchorage Realtor and residential land developer Connie Yoshimura.

Project officials say the Holtan Hills project will bring a mixed-density residential development and more than 100 homes, townhouses and condominiums to a community facing an acute housing crisis.

But their proposal, as written, has received an outpouring of opposition from Girdwood’s residents and its Board of Supervisors, who say that the Holtan Hills proposal doesn’t do enough to address the community’s critical need for housing that is affordable for local workers and families.

The company would eventually develop about 60 acres of wooded land adjacent to Glacier Creek and the Iditarod National Historic Trail, northwest of the Alyeska ski resort. The tracts would then be sold individually for buyers to build on, and profits split between CY Investments and the land bank.

The entire process would take between 10 to 15 years or more, and the development of the land split between 3 phases. The first phase would include about 52 home sites, a range of lot sizes for single family homes and five multi-family structures with 32 total units, according to Yoshimura.

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The housing crisis in the ski resort community has been driven by skyrocketing housing prices and high rental rates, while enormous proportions of dwellings are used as short-term vacation rentals and second homes.

“The biggest way to address this is housing. It provides mixed density. It’s not all single-family homes. It’s single-family, duplex, fourplex, multi-plex — and that’s just phase one,” said Adam Trombley, who is chief of staff to Mayor Dave Bronson and has overseen much of the process so far.

That mix will bring with it a range of housing prices, he said.

Many residents say that few who live there will be able to afford the homes, given that condos in the area have sold recently for a half-million and more. The project’s opponents say that, as written, the stipulations in development agreement and proposed land transfer won’t do much to mitigate those housing market forces. They fear Holtan Hills will damage the community further.

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

“Because it’s public land, it should be meeting the community’s goals,” said Mike Edgington, head of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. And many residents do want new housing development, and especially the higher-density mixture of housing types, as Yoshimura has proposed.

But the agreement does little to constrain the number of short-term rentals, does not guarantee houses will be primary residences rather than vacation homes, and also does not guarantee any or all of the housing will be built, he said. There’s also nothing to help with affordability, he said.

“Girdwood is kind of almost at this existential inflection point,” Edgington said to Assembly members during a Friday work session. “There’s this question about whether ... the community can stay as a community, or whether it just becomes, effectively, a resort playground.”

Girdwood is experiencing “a hollowing out” of residents, he said. “There are a lot of people who have been forced out of the community. If they don’t already have stable housing, it’s pretty much impossible to get,” he said.

The city’s request for a land development proposal and CY Investment’s response required an opportunity to create affordable and workforce housing. Their site plan accomplishes that, Yoshimura said during a work session earlier this month.

“It is up to the builders, nonprofits, citizens to undertake the opportunities created by these home sites. I am not the builder. I am only the land developer,” she said.

The Girdwood Board of Supervisors proposed several changes to the deal that they say could help, including deed restrictions to limit use of properties as short-term rentals, deed restrictions that require properties be primary residences, and a deadline for construction of housing. The Heritage Land Bank did not amend its agreement with the developer to include them.

CY Investments and HLB have made some adjustments — including on Friday putting forward a stipulation in the land transfer authorization that would set aside a multi-family lot to later transfer to a Girdwood housing authority. The community would have five years to establish the organization, or the city would take it back.

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CY Investments would also restrict houses built in the first phase of the project so they would not include rentals shorter than 30 days, through the creation of a homeowners association.

Edgington said he appreciates the changes, but that key issues remain unaddressed. “This development has nothing in it that will likely produce a majority of community housing as opposed to vacation second homes,” he said.

The Assembly’s vote on Tuesday is the next step in a continuing public process that would be largely overseen by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Trombley said.

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The transfer would allow the developer to secure financing, do a traffic study and take other steps needed to create a full plan for the development. That plan would be public and go before the city’s Planning Department and Commission, in order to get the conditional use permit, Trombley said.

This type of planned unit development will hold builders to the density requirements lined out in that plan, he said.

If the project is halted, that will likely have a chilling effect on future development, he said.

“At the end of the day, if the Assembly doesn’t approve the land disposal, then there is no housing, because the project will die. So if Girdwood is interested in obtaining housing, then the disposal has to happen,” Trombley said.

Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said Friday that Girdwood is expressing legitimate wants and needs, some of which probably can’t pencil out for the developer.

“This single project has become this vision for, ‘This is either solving the problem or not,’ — and I don’t know that it can,” Quinn-Davidson said.

“I mean, that’s the problem. That it’s not affordable in Girdwood,” she said. “... My question is, how do we move forward?”

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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