Girdwood Inc Newsletter Issue II

Girdwood, Inc. is pleased to provide the 2nd issue of our newsletter. We do not claim to be journalists but are residents who deem it important to help keep the community informed.  Many Girdwood community organizations work with us, and we realize they are impacted by activities occurring now in Girdwood.

Girdwood, Inc.’s Mission is being “Girdwood’s Partner in Funding and Leadership”, and that has brought results. We remodeled, restored and now operate the Alyeska Roundhouse Museum. We raised funds to build the Gerrish Library and Community Room.  Girdwood Inc. holds or has held funds on behalf of the Girdwood Skate Park, Fungus Fair, Girdwood Community Garden and more. Many smaller community groups use the fiscal sponsorship of Girdwood, Inc.  By doing the basic bookkeeping for them, it makes it easier for committees to focus on tasks and achieve goals.  We invite non-profit groups that are doing positive deeds for Girdwood to explore whether we can help them.

Since our last newsletter, which focused on the Holtan Hills proposal, some very important changes have occurred. More than 40 Girdwood residents attended the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission (HLBAC) meeting on January 27, 2022. We would like to extend thanks to those who took the time out of their day to do so. The HLBAC is a 7-member board. This was the introduction of the 6 new commissioners to each other. Ron Tenny, who is the Girdwood Representative on the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Committee, is the sole pre-existing commissioner. 

First and foremost, the disposal of Holtan Hills has been pushed back until at least May 2022. Girdwood, Inc. sees this slow down as a positive step toward what we hope is much more community engagement in the planning process. But it is important that we don’t let this important project blend into the background and miss our opportunity to communicate and articulate community needs.  Anchorage must take Girdwood’s community feedback seriously and conscientiously.

After the December 22nd HLB Public Meeting presentation on Holtan Hills, Girdwood Inc. ran an informal poll asking “If you had to make a decision today regarding the Holtan Hills proposal, would you support it?” 247 Votes were received (approximately 10% of Girdwood’s population). 58% said “I need more information or want changes” 28% responded “No”, and 14% said “Yes.”   Based on these results, Girdwood Inc. finds it concerning that so many citizens do not support the project as currently presented.  

A Town Hall was held on February 12th which was arranged by several local residents. The meeting was held in person at Girdwood Chapel and via Zoom. There were talks and presentations given by speakers from Girdwood Clinic, Pastor Nico Reins of Girdwood Chapel and Girdwood Food Pantry, Girdwood Community Land Trust and Four Valleys Community School. This was followed by more than an hour of public testimony. Several Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS) attended, as well as Assemblyman John Weddleton and candidate Randy Sulte. The testimony was quite moving in addressing the importance of Girdwood’s social services, infrastructure and business employment needs.

Emma Kramer makes notes from public comments at the February 12th Town Hall.

On February 24th, HLBAC held a meeting to focus on their Annual Work Plan Draft. In the plan, HLB identifies several large areas which are mapped as “Disposal in 2022.” Not only does this include Holtan Hills, but also parcels in Girdwood South Townsite and the Girdwood Industrial Park.

Source: Page 51 of HLB 2022 Annual Work Plan

At the meeting Commissioners Brett Wilbanks and Ron Tenny made comments that it would be appropriate for Heritage Land Bank (HLB) to complete needed updates to the Girdwood Area Plan and made calls for HLB to complete a site-specific impact study related to the disposals of the Holtan Hills parcels. Wilbanks stated the Girdwood community had “several valid concerns.” A Heritage Land Bank representative stated that the Anchorage School District and various agencies such as the Anchorage Planning Department have determined that “school impact was not a concern.” Ron Tenny gave the example that the school’s capacity could be impacted depending on how many of the lots are utilized by full time residents with children, which could overwhelm the school. 

In reference to the Girdwood Industrial Park, Commissioner Brett Wilbanks pointed out that HLB should not dispose of land when a municipal need is already established. Examples of this are that the Girdwood Fire Department normally utilizes an area for training in Phase II of the Industrial Park, as well as Girdwood Valley Service Area for equipment storage. HLB responded that a portion of land would be set aside for GVSA and would include space for the fire department within that area.  

Discussion continued regarding the Girdwood Industrial Park.  Bob Wolfe’s need for a power connection has been an agenda item at recent public meetings. Mr. Wolfe expressed frustration that after 20 years of operating in the valley, he does not have a long-term commitment from HLB and, because of this, he is unable to grow his business due to the insecurity of knowing he has a permanent place to operate.  In Phase II, permits are renewed annually and permittees only have days to vacate if directed by the land manager (HLB). Without site control, via ownership or long-term leases, permittees cannot build any permanent structures. This issue may be beginning to change in a positive direction as the first 5 lots in Phase I are in the process of transferring ownership to the Leasees.

Following these meetings, Bob Wolfe was thanked by Kyle Kelly and members of GBOS for helping to plow the Girdwood roads when the current contractor’s equipment was stuck on the Anchorage-side of the February 18th avalanche.  We hope this issue can be resolved, as Bob Wolfe plays a big role in keeping Girdwood businesses and residential areas open and safe via his snow plowing services.

Girdwood, Inc. board members recently participated in a meeting with former Breckenridge Mayor, John Warner, who explained how Breckenridge handled their critical workforce housing issues. He said that to start, you have to realize that if you can’t house your own workers, “you are just a resort, not a resort community”.  After selecting to move forward as a community, they prepared for their upcoming needs by land banking parcels for the future. In his opinion, projects that were 80% workforce and 20% market rate were economically viable.  They worked with trusted contractors to market and construct the developments. He said traditional rental units, as opposed to only homes for purchase, should be included in projects.  Breckinridge is now including them to continue to relieve pressure on the housing market. He also stressed the need for short-term rental prohibition via deed restriction be included in the new development.  Future buyers will know upfront about the property’s short-term rental restrictions and can take the restriction fully into account.  Breckenridge has about 5000 housing units and a max of 2200 short-term rental licenses. Such restrictions already exist in a number of Girdwood developments, so this is not an unusual or difficult stipulation.

If you are interested in getting more involved in this subject matter, we encourage you to participate at various meetings or send your comments to elected officials. This discussion will be continued at the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and Girdwood Land Use Committee meetings. We expect this to be the appropriate channel for the Girdwood community to communicate in one clear voice. HLBAC will continue to go through the Annual Work Plan Draft at their March 24th meeting. The next critical meeting will be the public hearing to approve HLB Annual Work Plan, currently slated for April 28th at 11:30 AM online via Microsoft Teams. Please “like” Girdwood Inc. on Facebook or fill out the form below to join our newsletter mailing list to receive emails for notification on important upcoming meetings.

Our board would like to extend our thanks for the appreciation shared after our first issue. We received thank you letters and additional information from readers. Our online version was widely shared, and we appreciate your help in getting the word out regarding these important happenings in Girdwood. Until next time!

Girdwood, Inc.

Board of Directors

If you need additional context: see our Newsletter Issue I