Two prominent Alaska families have proposed building a lodge with up to 150 rooms at the state-owned airport in Girdwood, along with an airplane hangar and a sports facility for skiers and hikers.
The “fly in/fly out lodge,” as the developers call it, could be the biggest lodging development in the resort town since the much-larger Alyeska Hotel was built in the mid-1990s.
The developers consist of former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and his son, Tim, as well as Jon Faulkner, owner of the Land’s End Resort in Homer, and his son, Andrew.
Their newly created business, Glacier Valley Lodge, has applied with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to lease 11 acres at the partially wooded northeast part of the airstrip in Girdwood. The application was first reported by Northern Journal.
“We want to plan a nice addition to the community,” Mead Treadwell said at a recent meeting about the project in the town of 2,000. Girdwood, a 45-minute drive southeast of Anchorage, is part of the municipality.
The proposed lodge is still in an early phase, with limited information available. Still, it’s generating lots of questions in Girdwood. Community members there successfully fought approval of the major Holtan Hills housing development in February, though that project could be revived.
In the meeting last week, held at the the local governing body, the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, several residents raised concerns about the lodge, including that it will increase traffic and noise pollution and hurt the solitude at the nearby Moose Meadow Park trails.
Also, the project is on state land, so municipal land-use requirements won’t apply, state officials say. That’s generating apprehension that the lodge could be built without much local input. And though the plans include employee housing, some residents fear the project will aggravate the local worker housing shortage.
On the other hand, benefits could include more space to park planes and a new lodging option to counter vacation rentals that have contributed to higher housing prices, a few speakers said at the meeting.
The proposed developers say they will engage the community frequently.
Tim Treadwell said at the meeting that he grew up skiing in Girdwood and sees himself as a community member, though he lives in Anchorage. Andrew Faulkner grew up in Homer helping his father at the Land’s End Resort. But the Faulkner family has roots in Girdwood. His late grandfather, former Girdwood civic leader Sewell “Stumpy” Faulkner, is memorialized on the trailhead sign at Moose Meadow Park.
Both families own second homes in Girdwood.
“We want to listen to the community when we’re in this planning process,” Tim Treadwell said.
A growing Girdwood
The state’s announcement of the application early this month opened a public comment period and call for potential competitors that ends June 12.
After the call for competition ends, the developers say they’ll disclose more information about the project.
They say many details, such as the final room count, won’t be known until traffic studies, permitting reviews and other analyses can be conducted.
Tim Treadwell said at the meeting that Girdwood appears poised to grow as Alaska tourism expands, which will support demand for the hotel. The Alyeska Resort has expanded amenities with a Nordic outdoor spa, and state transportation planners have proposed a major highway interchange near the town.
Treadwell said the lodge could support tourists flying to Prince William Sound or taking advantage of nearby hiking and skiing trails.
In addition to a lodge, the lease application calls for a hangar with aircraft storage, fueling and other services, according to the state notice. The developers also propose building a sports center, a small food and beverage service, and 10 units to house employees.
The sports center could rent equipment such as snowshoes and skis and provide a place for trail users to warm up, Treadwell said.
Treadwell said he’s been considering the idea of building a lodge in Girdwood for years, after the state pitched the idea at air shows.
“I want to see the town grow in a way the community supports and in a way we can all be proud of,” Treadwell said in an interview.
Traffic, noise and other concerns
The state is not releasing the lease application during the competitive call and until a decision can be made whether to approve it, said Vickie Ayala, head of state aviation leasing for the Central region. She said Municipality of Anchorage building codes won’t apply to the project, since it’s on state land. Construction plans would need approval from the state fire marshal, she said.
Mike Edgington, co-chair of the supervisors board, said in an interview Monday that there are concerns the Girdwood service area will have to cover additional costs associated with the development, such as road maintenance or drainage issues, without receiving enough new revenue in return.
Also, the Girdwood land-use plan doesn’t allow lodging at the airport, he said.
“It’s unacceptable” that community planning can be ignored because the project is on state land, he said.
Edgington said he’s concerned that if municipal land-use codes do not apply to the project, the developers would not be required to seek the community’s input once the current comment period ends. Edgington said he maintains that municipal land-use codes appear to apply to this project.
Tim Treadwell said the developers will voluntarily attend numerous community meetings in Girdwood to address questions. He said the developers will work to mitigate traffic issues and will build enough worker housing so the project doesn’t compound the housing shortage in Girdwood.
The developers can work with a local stakeholder group to create a “mutually agreeable design review process,” they said in a letter addressed to the Girdwood supervisors board.
Mead Treadwell said at the meeting that designers will work out solutions to questions like the hotel’s impact on views and light pollution. The planning process will also address issues like drainage, airplane noise and other concerns, he said.
Longtime resident Jacky Graham, who lives near Moose Meadow, said she’s certain the hotel will be well-run, given Jon Faulkner’s experience with the 150-room Land’s End Resort.
“I know it will be beautiful,” she said at the meeting.
But she worries about light pollution near the park, among other issues, she said.
She and others at the meeting also expressed concerns about the limited access to the airstrip, along a single dirt road, Mount Hood Drive. Trucks during construction would rumble through a neighborhood, and traffic could surge after the lodge is built.
“Girdwood has started to get a bit of a reputation as being a NIMBY,” Graham said, referring to the “not in my backyard” label that was sometimes used as the town fought the Holtan Hills project.
“And you know, it just seems to me it’s an odd place to put a hotel,” she said. “It’s not easily accessible. It will have a lot of impacts on a lot of people.”
Girdwood resident John Rense said he’d like to see the project succeed and provide a new option for lodging. But he called the lack of details “bothersome.”
Tim Treadwell said more will be disclosed.
“One reason why we haven’t divulged information is because the DOT is accepting competing leases right now, and we want to be fair to those people who apply that can apply for a lease and we want to be fair to ourselves too,” he said. “So we don’t want to give away information that could hurt us in this 30-day period.”
The state is accepting comments by mail. Send letters to Aviation Leasing, Central Region, P.O. Box 196900, Anchorage, AK, 99519-6900. They can be directed to leasing officials Vickie Ayala or Britton Goldberg.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Mike Edgington, co-chair of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, maintains that municipal land-use codes appear to apply to the proposed project.