Anchorage Assembly takes step that could revive Holtan Hills housing project

The Anchorage Assembly approved a measure that could be a step toward reviving the controversial Holtan Hills housing project in Girdwood, though Mayor Dave Bronson and Assembly members quarreled over how it would be funded. The mayor vetoed the measure several days later, but the Assembly can resurrect it with a veto override vote.

The Assembly had indefinitely postponed the Holtan Hills project in February amid opposition within the Girdwood community, and concerns that Bronson’s tumultuous and short-staffed administration could not properly implement the project.

The measure provides $119,000 to hire a real estate consultant “to protect” the interest of the municipality’s Heritage Land Bank in the Holtan Hills land development deal, according to the item, approved at an April 25 meeting. It was one of several budget revisions approved by the Assembly at the meeting, including some others that focused on addressing the city’s housing shortage.

A third-party consultant can help alleviate concerns that prompted Assembly members to reject the Holtan Hills project, said Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, who proposed the idea for the consultant, in an interview.

The Holtan Hills housing project consists of a profit-splitting agreement between the Heritage Land Bank and a private development company owned by Anchorage realtor and residential land developer Connie Yoshimura. Plans call for the creation of more than 100 homes, condominiums and multifamily units across 60 wooded acres northwest of Alyeska Resort.

The project had faced strong opposition from the town of 2,000, a 45-minute drive south of Anchorage yet within the municipal boundaries, in large part due to concern that it would not lead to the construction of housing that workers in Girdwood could afford. Housing prices have skyrocketed in the community, and employers have said many workers can’t afford to live there.

In February, Zaletel submitted a resolution that would have approved the critical land transfer for the Holtan Hills project, if some conditions were met. One condition required that the land bank would use a portion of its Holtan Hills profit to designate at least one lot to a Girdwood entity, for building at least eight units that would be available to residents.

The real estate consultant can ensure that the process of providing city land to a Girdwood entity is properly implemented, and will help protect the city’s interest if Holtan Hills is approved, Zaletel said. She said it’s been more than a year since the city has employed a real estate or land bank director.

“Housing is needed and this is an opportunity for a Girdwood entity to develop some housing,” Zaletel said. “Even if it’s only eight units in a multi-family development, it’s a start.”

The funding for the budget revision would come from a proposed administration position within the mayor’s office, according to the item.

Bronson said in a tense debate at the Assembly meeting that the position is filled and the Assembly is trying to micromanage his office. He said the Assembly could likely find money for the position in its budget.

Zaletel and outgoing Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said there are vacant positions in the mayor’s office, and the money is available there.

Bronson vetoed the measure on April 28, saying in a statement, “While I support the efforts in advancing the Holtan Hills development agreement, the proposal to utilize funding from a position that is currently filled within the Mayor’s Office is putting an individual’s employment in jeopardy, I do not condone.”

The Assembly can vote to override the mayor’s veto.

Mike Edgington, co-chair of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, the local governing body in Girdwood, said it’s possible Holtan Hills could be revived. The five-member board had opposed the original Holtan Hills plan.

“We know the development agreement is still in place, so there’s a possibility that a different project could come back in that same area, and if it’s a different project and it meets the needs of Girdwood housing, we’d be happy to have that discussion,” he said. “It’s also a positive thing the Assembly has recognized that the Heritage Land Bank and the municipality need expertise to make sure their interests are met.”

Yoshimura, the residential land developer involved in Holtan Hills, could not be reached for comment.

She was quoted in a recent article on The Alaska Landmine website as saying she’s still interested in pursuing the Holtan Hills development if it’s revived by the Assembly.

“I can’t think of a reason why I would throw in the towel at this point in time,” she said, according to the Landmine.

Contact Alex DeMarban at [email protected].

05/01/2023 - 3:28pm