A major housing project planned for Girdwood has upset some residents of that hamlet at the southern edge of the Municipality of Anchorage.
That’s not because Girdwood doesn’t need more housing. Most there agree it does. But the city’s plan to develop 60 acres near Glacier Creek into more than 100 does not include any units cheaper than $500,000.
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And Girdwood — home to Alyeska Resort and many businesses catering to visitors — is most acutely feeling the pinch for more affordable housing.
Anchorage Daily News reporter Alex DeMarban wrote about the Holtan Hills project recently. DeMarban says, for tiny Girdwood, and for better or worse, it would be a huge development.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Alex DeMarban: Just looking at the map, you can see that it would be at least kind of one-fifth of what Girdwood is. If it were in Anchorage, it would be the equivalent of 20,000 housing units. And so in the small town of Girdwood, with 2,000 people, it’s going to have a huge impact. Some of the homes luxury, some of the units fairly small. And the city would initially do some of the work to prepare the extension of the utilities, but the developer would get the utilities to the lots. So that would be an expensive process to get the land ready for sale. And then the developer, CY Investments, owned by Connie Yoshimura, would then sell the land to homebuilders, and the profits from the sales would be divided between the city and Connie’s company.
Casey Grove: And for people that might just be driving through Girdwood, that’s kind of behind the Mercantile and near the elementary school?
AD: Yeah, the elementary school, the post office area where a lot of people don’t go who visit , because they’re typically going straight to the resort.
CG: So the folks in Girdwood, ostensibly, would get more housing. But there are no guarantees that the type of housing that Girdwood actually says it needs would be included in this project, right? And that’s created a little bit of…
AD: Yes, because Girdwood’s main requirement, and what it wants most of all for this project, is that there’ll be affordable housing. Housing that workers can afford. And we’re not just talking about the, maybe, lower-income restaurant worker, but even teachers and firefighters. Professionals in town are having difficulty finding places to stay. But the smallest unit at this point is estimated to cost half a million dollars, by the time it’s ready for someone to rent. And so clearly, that’s not affordable to a lot of salaries anywhere. Yeah, they’re disappointed they’re not able to have any guarantees for workforce housing. The project developers have also said that affordable housing homebuilders could buy some of the land, develop some of the houses, and so that would be one way to create affordable or workforce housing.
CG: And I guess they also said that this project would open up more housing in Girdwood for people that already live there, that might leave their homes and somebody else could could purchase those, I guess. But like you said, there’s no guarantees that any of that might happen at this point. And that’s it sounds like that’s what some Girdwood residents want. And these “Halt Halton Hills signs have popped up, right? What did some of the folks, some of the business owners and other folks in Girdwood that talked to you tell you about all that?
AD: In general, my understanding is that most people in town are opposed to the project as it exists now. There’s definitely a wide array of views on the project, and some people don’t want it at all, they’re ready for it to be stopped completely. But there’s definitely a lot of people who are hoping that there can be some sort of resolution to have workforce housing in the project. There’s definitely a lot of passion about the project. You have those “Halt Holtan Hills” signs. Business owners are very concerned about not being able to have workers and so they want to make sure that there’s affordable housing of some sort that’s created in there. Like the owner of the Subway there, for example, who wasn’t quoted in the story, but he can’t get workers there who are from Girdwood anymore like he used to 10 years ago or so when he started. They all have to be imported from Anchorage.
CG: But if you’re working in the service industry, maybe in a resort town where that’s the primary industry, and you just need a place to stay, you don’t want to have to drive from Anchorage.
AD: You definitely don’t want that.
CG: With gas prices the way they are, right? Well, if the Girdwood residents are upset about this, how much power do they even have through the local boards there or what? The Girdwood Board of Supervisors doesn’t get to say yes or no on this right?
AD: They can basically make recommendations as they’re doing. A lot of the community members wanted them to make a stronger recommendation, as in, you know, “We want you, Heritage Land Bank, to kill this project if there can’t be worker housing.” So the ask from the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, the local governing body, is not quite so direct, but it’s still calling for an effort to find a way to get worker housing into the project.
CG: And then I guess also the the Anchorage Assembly has To approve it ultimately, right?
AD: Yes. And that’s going to be a huge area of impact where the community can make a difference. I mean, the Assembly members are definitely watching the process and listening. And some people could imagine that if Girdwood is not happy with this huge development, that the Assembly is not going to fully support the project.