Girdwood Area Plan Update Survey Begins
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Starting on Jan. 14, Girdwood Area Plan Update Committee (GAP) will begin conducting an online survey to gather data about community demographics and priorities on future development. Letters will soon be mailed to residents alerting them to the survey and why taking it is important for shaping Girdwood’s future development.
According to Municipal code, area plans require updating every 20 years to sustain the community’s wishes for future growth. The Girdwood Area Plan was last updated in 1995 and requires revision to reflect the values of the current community.
Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS), the elected, governing body in the valley, formed GAP several years ago. Co-Chairs Diana Livingston and Lewis Leonard were appointed to get the committee running and produce an updated plan. Both Co-Chairs have extensive experience with GBOS and its committees.
Leonard explained the plan is important because it showed landowners, land users, as well as federal, state and Muni entities what community desires are now and in the future.
“It shows anybody that wants to do anything here what the wishes of the community are.” Leonard said. “It’s what the Anchorage Assembly relies on to approve or disapprove of things that happen here. It is the legal guiding document that shows the wishes of the community to everybody.”
One step in this lengthy process is conducting surveys of the community and stakeholders to learn their vision of Girdwood for the next 20 years and implement it in the updated plan. All household members over 13 years old are eligible to take the survey, as are seasonal residents, and non-resident stakeholders who own businesses and/or property in the vicinity.
Hays Research Group in Anchorage is taking the survey and is concerned about how satisfied community members are regarding essential services such as fire protection, policing and other services provided by GBOS.
There are also questions about property ownership and rentals as well as what respondents think are the positives and negatives of being in Girdwood. The anonymous survey also features multiple response questions that allow for ranking.
Livingston described reasons for the survey, saying, “This survey is being held now because we recognized that a lot of our targets are here in the winter but not in the summer. Many people are here in the summer and not in the winter, so we’re going to do two surveys.”
This method of public outreach is vital to get community input on issues and suggestions in addition to approval on the local and Muni levels.
“It’s a requirement from the municipality that we have intense public involvement,” Livingston said. “Doing a survey is one way to do that. There will be a public meeting that will offer another opportunity for public involvement, and another survey and another meeting [in the summer].”
Progress on the idea stalled for a few years after the Municipality’s planning department was defunded, which cut out professional guidance and other necessary resources.
“Back in 2007,” Livingston said, “there was an effort by the Municipality’s planning department to update the GAP. They had money available at that time. There was an amazing survey. Then the department ran out of money. They dropped it, and it was no longer a priority.”
GAP realized if an updated plan were to be completed, it would have to be done within Girdwood using a combination of fund raising and volunteer work. Sitting on the GAP Update Committee and stakeholders participating in meetings would be examples of ways to do so.
Then GAP received help from Heritage Land Bank (HLB), the Muni’s real estate department that owns most of the available land in Girdwood Valley. They doubled a $10,000 matching grant through private donations and the Anchorage Assembly added funding too. In addition, the planning department offered help with 40 hours of assistance a year.
“Heritage Land Bank is the major land owner in the valley,” said Leonard. “This plan, being more than 20 years old and in need of being revitalized, will benefit HLB. It will show them what the wishes of the community are and they will be more able to use their lands here.”
According to GAP’s website, its mission statement is “Guiding Girdwood land use: Creating a framework for the future development of Girdwood.” The vision of the Girdwood Area Plan Update Committee is, “funding and completing a transparent, inclusive review of the Girdwood Area Plan to guide quality development planning in an orderly and understandable process that is respectful of all views.”
Leonard also emphasized that GAP is working solely for the community, not the wishes of the committee members.
“Remember that this is a guiding document,” Leonard said. “We’re not engaged in telling that this is how anything should be as a group. We’re passing along through this document the wishes of the community.”
Girdwood has seen a lot of changes over the past 23 years, so the Gazette asked Livingston and Leonard for their sense of how community priorities have changed since 1995.
Livingston replied, “So many factors have changed. The political climate is different. The economic climate is different. I would venture to say the face of the community is different from what it was in 1995.”
Leonard’s answer was, “The plan in 1995 was predicated on a future golf course. In all of the planning that has ever been done in Girdwood, the Municipality has hired out of state planners to complete them and paid them millions of dollars, with little to no effect.” He added, “This planning process is a community planning process. We choose and tell the people that we hire how we want this plan written without having any outside influence or interferences to push the plan in a bad direction.”
The GAP Update Survey will be open for one month starting Jan. 14, 2019. It will be available to take online @ girdwoodsurvey.com.
The Girdwood Area Plan website includes information on its history, extensive past meeting documents, maps and relevant area plans from other parts of the U.S. for research purposes. Please visit girdwoodareaplan.org and facebook.com/girdwoodareaplan.