OPINION: Girdwood housing development project should be stopped

Anyone’s who’s been to Girdwood recently has seen the multitudes of bright red “Halt Holtan Hills” signs throughout the neighborhoods. The ubiquity of the signs represents an unprecedented level of consensus, uniting neighbors from across the political spectrum. By any measure, local opposition to the Holtan Hills development is running at more than 90%. Unfortunately, the project is barreling toward Anchorage Assembly approval regardless.

The Holtan Hills tracts are the largest and best remaining land for residential development in Girdwood, so their importance to the community can hardly be overstated. They were Girdwood lands until the town was absorbed into Anchorage, and they’ve been held by a municipal land management agency, the Heritage Land Bank, or HLB. What is new about the Holtan Hills development is the magnitude of the project, the concerted exclusion of the Girdwood community and its concerns, and the involvement of HLB as a development partner with CY Investments, essentially turning the municipality into a real estate speculator.

Obtaining information about the Holtan Hills project has been a struggle from the beginning. The Girdwood community has waded through heavily redacted documents, asked in vain for the original RFP results, and submitted public records requests months ago that remain unanswered. The Girdwood Board of Supervisors, or GBOS, asked for legal advice from the municipal attorney but the questions merely got routed back to HLB. Our citizens have spent hours attending meetings only to be told our viewpoints are irrelevant to the decisions being made — at an HLB Advisory Committee meeting in September, among others. Girdwood has watched in amazement as HLB and CY Investments flip-flopped on the relevancy of a 16-year-old neighborhood plan, finally declaring that its existence precluded any need for community approval of the project or bothersome hassles like site-specific land use studies.

At the developer’s request, Girdwood created a Housing Committee that collectively spent hundreds of hours trying to transform the project into something that would actually benefit the community, but their suggestions were summarily rejected. The Holtan Hills development agreement between HLB and CY Investments will add 30% to developed land and about 20% to housing units in Girdwood, a transformative project by any measure, reinforcing the importance of doing it correctly. Instead, the process has systematically excluded Girdwood, leading to a project that will devastate acres of forest, exacerbate current strains on Girdwood’s economy and infrastructure, and cause the further exodus of community members who can no longer afford to live here, all to benefit one developer and a city department that seems to view Girdwood more as a strip mine than a town.

Both GBOS and the housing committee have stated that Girdwood sees tremendous value in developing the Holtan Hills lands, but the current development agreement is absolutely untenable. The Holtan Hills project, simply put, will do us more harm than good. Furthermore, any development of the Holtan Hills area must address community concerns and needs from the beginning. It is what any other community in Alaska would want, and it’s ridiculous that we have to ask.

The Holtan Hills project needs to be scrapped so development can happen correctly. No other neighborhood in Anchorage and no other town in Alaska would want half a dozen municipal employees deciding for them what is best for their community, so we’re asking for your help. Please contact your Assembly member, your elected representative and your friends to get the word out that Girdwood needs help. The future of our community depends on it.

Jennifer Wingard is a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors as well as several other Girdwood committees. The views expressed here are her own.

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