By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
“If you don’t have a plan for where you are going to go, things will happen that you don’t want to happen.”
– Janice Figueroa Crocker, Girdwood Area Plan Co-chair
“Our intention out of the gate is to be as transparent as we have been in the past and be more inclusive of community input.”
– Eric Fullerton, Girdwood Area Plan Co-chair
Have you ever thought about what Girdwood might look like in 2040?
You can get your chance by participating in an Imagine! Girdwood town hall on April 29 from 6-8 p.m. at Girdwood K-8 School.
Girdwood Area Plan (GAP) is using Imagine! Girdwood to gather information about how the community could change and grow. The program will begin with a review of the Girdwood Area Plan Survey’s results, which will be followed by a community discussion about what Girdwood might look like 20 years later if the plan receives final approval by the Municipality of Anchorage (Muni).
While change and growth in Girdwood are inevitable, Imagine! Girdwood is looking to guide these changes according to the wishes of today’s residents and stakeholders when updating the plan. The Muni requires the plan to be updated every 20 years. The current GAP was written 25 years ago, and the community’s priorities have changed.
Imagine! Girdwood was recently formed as a nonprofit after Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS) voted to separate from the GAP Committee, which was created to update the plan. To learn more about the upcoming town hall and GAP, the Gazette interviewed Imagine Girdwood Co-chairs Janice Figueroa Crocker and Eric Fullerton. They both emphasized that the town hall is designed to be fun, have food and drink, and live music. Community members are encouraged to bring a plate of something tasty to share.
The town hall will present community members with the results of the recent GAP Survey, conducted by Hays Research Group in Anchorage, as a way to initiate dialogue about Girdwood’s future.
“The idea of Imagine Girdwood is to let the community hear about the results,” Crocker said, “not just get the email that shows the results of our survey. We tried to find out what Girdwood wants for Girdwood. We want to discuss it with as much of the community as we can and also get our town together to prioritize and really think about these are what the results are, how are we going to get these into a workable, useable document that can guide our future.”
Fullerton was excited about the survey’s participation and results, saying, “We had a huge turnout for the survey, there were over 728 people that submitted responses. Those questions were designed to help different pieces of the puzzle we’re trying to put together.”
To learn the desires of the community, Imagine! Girdwood will have large land use maps to show how land in Girdwood is used in various sections. People will be able to propose using the land in different ways. For example, if you’d like affordable housing, where would you put it? There might use a sticky note or dry erase marker to mark a location on the map. All information given will be used to get specific feedback.
After the results are presented, the town hall will shift to information gathering session to discuss ideas more specifically such as transportation, recreation, affordable housing and general land use. During discussion, the audience will have about five questions to answer with interactive clickers. Audience interaction and a feedback form will allow for more specific comments.
Crocker and Fullerton were excited at the prospect of including kids with a breakout session run by Four Valleys Community School (FVCS) to include their input about their visions for a future Girdwood.
Fullerton said, “The really cool part of it is, Four Valleys is helping with this part, where the kids will go to a breakout room for a couple of exercises where they can draw a picture of what they think the future of Girdwood should be and what is important to them. We’ll have a presentation of that at the end.”
“The kids are Girdwood too,” Crocker said, “and they’re going to talk about what they want. I have kids in Girdwood, and they have different ideas about what would make Girdwood cool. Their voice counts just as much at some point. Families are a huge part of what makes Girdwood so special. If you disregard what the kids want, families aren’t going to want to be here.”
Regarding the Imagine! Girdwood town hall, FVCS Executive Director Catherine McDermott wrote, “FVCS is partnering with the Girdwood Area Plan committee to host Imagine! Girdwood because we believe in community engagement and involvement. Over 20 years ago FVCS hosted a similar community forum for the previous Girdwood Area Plan, and we are happy to be involved again in a way that brings people together to talk about planning for Girdwood in a way that brings voice to the wishes of local residents, present and future.”
With new information compiled, GAP can go to the next phase and start to structure what these ideas for the future look like. Fullerton estimates it will take about two years to get to the submission phase.
GAP’s mission is to complete the update in three phases, and the first one is nearing completion with the town hall. During Phase One, over $20,000 was raised by GAP Committee to conduct the GAP Survey. Phase Two is writing out the plan, and technical writers will be needed to present the information in a structured way that adheres to planning department guidelines.
Phase Three is adoption of GAP, which must follow a set process. It starts with the two-month meeting cycle of new business and old business before Land Use Committee and GBOS. If GAP receives approval, it moves to the Muni’s Heritage Land Bank and Planning Commission for review and revision. If approved, Anchorage Assembly reviews with another two-month meeting cycle of new business and old business before voting to accept or reject GAP.
Fullerton predicts that the community will show a variety of desires at the upcoming town hall regarding the direction of Girdwood’s future development and says everyone is welcome to attend.
“We’re very interested in engaging more of the stakeholders of the community,” Fullerton said, “the business owners, the various nonprofit interests, and other folks who have a stake here from a long-term standpoint to newly moving here.”
Crocker expressed similar sentiments and said Imagine Girdwood’s goal is not about pushing an agenda, but to implement what the stakeholders envision.
“This group is not about government or development. This group is about finding about what Girdwood wants for Girdwood. The people who are here now, what they really hope for Girdwood to be and to try to facilitate that idea to make Girdwood be is what everybody here dreams about. Girdwood is pretty awesome. We have dreams, and if everybody in Girdwood thinks it would be cool to have this one thing, then maybe we should have the one thing.”