Welcome to issue ten of Girdwood Inc’s newsletter. In this newsletter, we will cover a variety of projects, new and ongoing. Children are back to school; fall is around the corner and there is much to highlight in the community!
Community Champion: Nico Reijns
Nico Reijns is the Pastor of Girdwood Chapel United Methodist Church. Turnagain Community Services (TCS) is a new sponsored organization of the Girdwood Chapel. Through this organization, they have helped individuals and families with food and housing assistance. Nico Reijns, the pastor at Girdwood Chapel, provided touching examples serving community members in emergency assistance situations. This includes rental assistance, utility bill support, fuel, ways to stay employed, etc. This new organization has incorporated as a non-profit and will foster the efforts of the Girdwood Food Pantry, the Chapel’s Community Garden and provide mutual aid support. Examples of mutual aid include rides to Anchorage for medical appointments, shoveling snow for elders and cooked meals. Heading the Turnagain Community Services organization is Alice Simmons, Betty Charnon and Terry Sherwood.
He said efforts for rental assistance, about $25,000 in the last 18 months, was not from governmental funding but due to philanthropy from the Girdwood community. Helping those in need was made possible by “neighbors wanting to help neighbors.”
“If we are housing insecure, that also means you are food insecure. If we are food insecure, that also means you are housing insecure. They are all connected.” Reijns provided examples of paying for monthly groceries, so an individual was able to cover their rent. “So sometimes, when we can do food assistance, then they can also stay housed.”
When Pastor Reijns came to Girdwood in 2019, the Girdwood Food Pantry served roughly 35 people one time per month and held a community meal. “Of course, COVID hit and as part of that was the huge growth in not only the number we serve, but the geography we serve.” During COVID, the food pantry served individuals from South Anchorage to Hope and Whittier and were in the several hundred visits-per-month range. Today, the food pantry is seeing an average of 180 guest-visits per month. The Girdwood Food Pantry is operated 3 times per month, on the first Sunday of the month and the second and fourth Wednesdays at the Girdwood Chapel.
The community garden at Girdwood Chapel has individual plots and recently built a new green house, made possible by a grant from Kenai Mountain-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. Reijns gave a nod of thanks to community member Kevin McDermott for in-kind donated time and labor to complete the structure. The Girdwood Chapel is in the very early stages of looking into doing an updated site master plan for their 2.5 acre lot. In this analysis, they hope to determine the best use of the land given some environmental constraints, as well as proximity to existing and future development. We look forward to seeing what this new organization can do, with Nico Reijns at the helm of Girdwood Chapel. If you are interested in donating toward any of these causes, please visit www.girdwoodchapel.com
Development in Girdwood:
If one drives around Girdwood today, you may notice many examples of projects in different stages of development. One sees homes under various stages of construction, dirt work and even projects coming to a close.
On August 3, 2023, at the Community and Economic Development Committee, Assemblymember Randy Sulte asked of Heritage Land Bank staff, “I’m just curious how to get a little bit more of an updated status of Holton Hills, that we had postponed indefinitely, but I understand it’s coming back, or it might come back before the assembly, just want a little more on that one.” Emma Giboney from HLB provided a background and concluded with, “We don’t have any significant updates about the Holtan Hills portion of that project at this time.” She added, “We have been in preliminary conversations with Pomeroy Lodging. We’re working to identify site constraints, development needs and concept designs that maximize the need for commercial success of the resort, while ensuring the workforce and residential housing needs are met.”
The following day on August 4, 2023, the Assembly held a Work Session re: Heritage Land Bank Annual Workplan, several items pertaining to Girdwood were discussed. Community member Ron Tenny has served on the commission for 6 years and his term is coming to an end. HLB staff stated, “In October, we will have a vacant seat and we will need a new Girdwood representative.” Girdwood is guaranteed 1 seat on the 7-member Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission.
On August 8, 2023 at the regular assembly meeting, the Anchorage Assembly passed and approved the Heritage Land Bank 2023 Annual Work Program and 2024-2028 five-year Management Plan. The plan had been up for public comment for 45 days and passed at the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission (HLBAC). Regarding Holtan Hills, the publicly noticed plan stated: “The Assembly postponed the Holtan Hills disposal indefinitely at the regular Assembly meeting on February 7, 2023.” An amendment was brought forward on the floor by Meg Zaletel to amend the language on the plan to include under “2023 Potential Projects.” The new paragraph was inserted and reads as follows: “Portions of HLB Parcel 6-011, 6-016, 6-017 – Approve of the disposal of portions of these parcels by public-private partnership development agreement with CY Investments, LLC, and land subordination in support of mixed density residential development in Girdwood.” The amendment to include the Holtan Hills disposal in the 2023 work program passed 11-0.
Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC):
AEDC is one of the Municipality’s active civic organizations. In response to workforce shortages throughout all of Anchorage, AEDC initiated a long-term “Choose Anchorage” effort to make the city more attractive to its workers. They are looking at Business Vitality, Talent, Quality of Place, and Infrastructure. Lack of housing is a focus. Girdwood Inc was asked to fill one of eleven Leadership Committee seats, a position assigned to Board Member John Rense. This initiative may help the city better recognize and address issues that we recognized here in Girdwood. We also consider Girdwood an important “Quality of Place” asset for the Municipality.
Department of Transportation:
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is continuing its long-term assessment of the road from Bird to Anchorage. They are seeking improvements that can enhance safety and better take advantage of the beauty and recreational potential of Turnagain Arm. DOT has also brought in a third-party to look at the various options for the intersection between the Alyeska Highway (road into Girdwood) and the Seward Highway.
Girdwood Workforce Childcare Project:
Girdwood Inc is very excited to announce it has received a new grant of $530,000. This was a competitive grant, made possible by the State of Alaska Childcare Program Office. The planning grant, which includes fees for design, architecture, engineering, consulting and legal fees is another major step forward for Little Bears Playhouse to own and operate a new and safe childcare facility. The project team is anticipating construction to begin in 2025. The future facility will substantially increase capacity, include childcare/classrooms, administrative space, as well as a multipurpose room for indoor play activities and inclement weather. The need for a new childcare space has been an existing issue in Girdwood for a decade or more. Girdwood Inc is excited to be part of the solution for safety reasons, as well as building a strong future for our children and economy.
Girdwood Rotary is holding their first annual Fall Festival on Saturday September 23, from 12-6 PM in Girdwood Town Square. The event includes kid’s games, family photo opportunity, live music and vendors.
Girdwood Rotary is one of the 46,000 rotary clubs world-wide. The international mission statement is: “We provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through our fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.” Regular meetings are open to the public. These meetings are typically held at Alpenglow Coffeehouse at 140 Olympic Mountain Loop on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays each month.