The Anchorage Assembly has postponed its vote on a controversial, large-scale Girdwood housing development that has been proposed in a deal between the municipality and a local private developer.
Members on Tuesday set a special meeting for Dec. 13 to continue hearing public testimony on the project and to possibly vote. The Assembly could instead vote during its regular Dec. 20 meeting, or postpone the vote further.
The city’s Heritage Land Bank is asking the Assembly to approve the disposal of 60 acres of city-owned land in Girdwood to the developer, CY Investments. The company is owned by longtime Anchorage realtor and residential land developer Connie Yoshimura.
The land disposal is a crucial step toward building Holtan Hills, which would be the biggest housing development in Girdwood in decades. Project officials say it would add more than 100 homes, townhouses and condominiums to the community.
But the Holtan Hills project, as currently planned, has received an outpouring of pushback from residents and from the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. Dozens of people crowded the Assembly chambers on Tuesday night. Almost all testified against the project. Many held signs on red sheets of paper with slogans such as “Public lands should equal public benefits.”
The ski resort community on Turnagain Arm is in a housing crisis, with ballooning prices and high rental costs. Large numbers of existing dwellings in Girdwood are used as short-term vacation rentals and second homes rather than primary residences.
Opponents to the project say most Girdwood residents won’t be able to afford homes in Holtan Hills, and that the stipulations in city’s development agreement and proposed land transfer will do little to curb housing market forces. They fear it will drastically change the tight-knit community, which already has limited fire and police resources and limited access to groceries, health care and child care.
Emma Kramer, a 20-plus-year resident and co-chair of the Girdwood board’s Holtan Hills Housing Advisory Committee, said the proposal does not include critical protections for the community, such as restrictions on short-term rentals or requirements that the housing in Holtan Hills be used as primary residences. It also does not ensure that housing will actually be built by the buyers of land developed by CY Investments, she said.
Many residents spend 40% to 50% of their income on rent, Kramer said.
“In Girdwood today, we have 30% resident occupancy. That means that only three homes out of 10 are locals. That’s three out of 10 homes to house our teachers, firefighters, essential workers, child care providers, cleaners, families and seniors. The rate of short-term rentals in our town is 25% greater than Anchorage,” she said.
Project officials say the best way to tackle the crisis in Girdwood is by building more housing — especially mixed-density housing that includes single-family homes, duplexes and multiplexes with a range of prices. Once developed, the land would be available for Girdwood residents to buy and for nonprofits to build affordable homes, they’ve said.
In the face of vehement community pushback, CY Investments and the Heritage Land Bank have made some adjustments. Last week, they added a stipulation to the land transfer authorization that would set aside a multifamily 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.
CY Investments has also committed to restrict short-term rentals of houses built in the first phase of the project. Those houses would not include rentals shorter than 30 days, through the creation of a homeowners association.
The company would develop the land in three phases, taking 10 years or more to complete. The development would sit adjacent to Glacier Creek and the Iditarod National Historic Trail, northwest of the Alyeska ski resort. The first phase would include about 52 home sites, a range of lot sizes for single-family homes and five multifamily structures with 32 total units.