Anchorage Assembly to take up fraught land deal for housing in Girdwood

Girdwood, Alaska
Anchorage officials are considering a deal for three tracts of land in Girdwood, pictured here in September 2022 on the far side of the creek, to a developer, who intends to prepare the land for homebuilding. The community wants affordable, year-round workforce housing to be part of the development. (Courtesy Mike Edgington)

Update, Tuesday night:

The Anchorage Assembly will continue public testimony on the proposed Girdwood land deal on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m. 

Girdwood residents packed the Assembly chambers on Tuesday, lining up against the walls, waving dozens of red paper signs with messages like “Listen to Girdwood” and “Public Land Should Equal Public Benefit.” Those who testified overwhelmingly opposed the proposed housing development for numerous reasons, including expected home prices. Many cited a need for more affordable housing in Girdwood, and said they didn’t believe the proposed development would help. 

Original story:

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will consider approving a deal that will open up valuable public land in Girdwood for a 60-acre housing development called Holtan Hills. 

But in the resort community within the boundaries of Anchorage, the proposal is fraught. On one hand, Girdwood is desperately in need of housing for its workforce. But without interventions, only the wealthy will be able to afford any of the new homes. 

Girdwood real estate agent Sam Daniel, who leads an advisory committee on Holtan Hills, looked up sales data in the community over the last 12 months. During a work session on Friday, he told the Anchorage Assembly that half of all condos sold for $526,000 or more. And the median price of a single family home was $708,000. 

“We really do have a crisis in Girdwood,” Daniel said. “I did property management in Girdwood for over 20 years of long-term rentals. I used to manage 70 doors in Girdwood. I saw that start to drop about 10, 12 years ago. And what folks were doing was taking their old rental properties and turning them into VRBOs .”

VRBO stands for “vacation rental by owner.”

The pending deal calls for Anchorage’s Heritage Land Bank to give developer CY Investments, LLC, three tracts along Crow Creek Road that an appraiser valued at $2.1 million. CY would prepare the land for building a mix of single-family homes, multi-family homes and condos. In the first of three phases, CY’s concept calls for 52 homesites. In exchange, the land bank would get half of the profits from lots sold. 

Daniel, the real estate agent, and Mike Edgington, who co-chairs the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, said the deal has positive elements: The mixed densities and a requirement that a multifamily lot be given to a community housing entity. The deal also says the future homeowner’s association will bar rentals shorter than 30 days in the first phase of the development. 

But Daniel and Edgington said they’re not satisfied with the overall deal. Edgington said even with the short-term rental restriction, he’s concerned wealthy people will buy them as second homes and leave them unoccupied most of the year. He said Girdwood is at an “existential inflection point.” 

“There’s this question about whether the community can stay as a community, or whether it just becomes effectively a resort playground,” Edgington said. “And what we’re seeing as members of the community is kind of a hollowing out of, you know, other residents. 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 impossible to get to that point.” 

The eventual price points will be mixed, but Daniel predicts what would be an entry-level condo in another community would be well north of $500,000 in this development. 

Connie Yoshimura is the “CY” of land developer CY Investments. Yoshimura told the Assembly in early November there’s no way for the free market to make the new homes affordable in Girdwood. 

“You are not going to be able to build, based upon these costs for a home site, affordable workforce low-income housing in Girdwood, without having some mechanism for a subsidy,” she said.

She said it’s time to establish some kind of housing authority to address those needs in Girdwood.

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Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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