EDITORIAL: Holtan Hills is back -- will the Assembly get it right this time?

Jan. 20—Nearly a year ago, the Anchorage Assembly killed Holtan Hills, a promising housing development prospect in the perennially high-demand Girdwood residential market. There were multiple reasons for that unwise action. Strong neighborhood antipathy toward the project had been ginned up by opponents who, it turned out, played fast and loose with the truth in describing its size, impact and effects on the town — untruths that convinced the Assembly to vote it down. Publicly, the Assembly declared that mistrust between its members and Mayor Dave Bronson's administration that led to the indefinite postponement of the Holtan Hills project last February. That argument was a red herring, as any of those concerns could have easily been overcome. As we wrote at the time, spiking the project was the wrong move — but the Assembly has an opportunity to make the right one in a few days' time. They should take it.

In fairness to Holtan Hills opponents, many of those opposed are Girdwood residents who are concerned about a large housing development's potential to change the makeup of their town. As most Alaskans can attest, change can be hard to embrace when you like the way a place is now. But there's a point at which that fear tips over into not-in-my-backyard-(NIMBY)ism that stifles the potential for positive growth that is ultimately in the community's best interest. Certainly, no one who has paid attention to the Girdwood housing market would make the argument that the housing Holtan Hills would provide isn't necessary — opponents have instead taken the tack that the kind of housing the project seeks to construct is the wrong type, too expensive or somehow disruptive to the community character. In doing so, they have vilified a good development by envisioning an imaginary perfect one that would satisfy everyone and, crucially, never actually happen.

That's a shame, because Holtan Hills will help address the real housing issues that Girdwood and the municipality face. Claims that the project doesn't do enough to promote affordable housing ignore the fact that in several regards, Holtan Hills plans to go further in promoting the sort of ownership project opponents want than the community is willing to enact on existing housing stock. Developer Connie Yoshimura says that not only will the project feature mixed-density housing — including three 8-plexes — of the kind Girdwood needs, a planned homeowners' association could apply covenants blocking short-term rentals such as Airbnb that have grossly inflated rents and home prices for existing Girdwood properties, pricing workers out of the local market. Mandates would also require at least 50% owner occupancy, which — if you've looked at AirBnB and VRBO listings online — is clearly not a standard met by all of Girdwood's existing neighborhoods.

Perhaps most importantly, when it comes to quelling Assembly members' concerns about dealing with Mayor Bronson's administration, the plan for Holtan Hills, should it pass muster this time around, would include oversight by a third party hired to represent the interests of the Heritage Land Bank and provide continuity for the project, as it could well span multiple mayoral administrations. The involvement of such a figure should give the Bronson-averse Assembly members the assurance they need that the deal won't go off the rails and the public land involved in the deal will be well looked after.

It's true that Holtan Hills doesn't satisfy its opponents in Girdwood, and likely never will. It's also true that no better plan will move forward in the near future — particularly if this one gets NIMBYed out of existence two years in a row. The Anchorage Assembly should do the right thing and approve the project, taking a solid step forward in addressing our municipal housing shortage.