RV Park's Germination in an Alaskan Ski Town
Editor's Note: Girdwood, Alaska, is an unincorporated year-round ski resort community located 36 miles southeast of Anchorage. It lies in a valley in the Chugach Mountains near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. It is surrounded by seven permanent glaciers. Summer activities include hiking, fishing and rafting, but Girdwood is best known for winter skiing and snowboarding at Alyeska Resort on Mount Alyeska. Girdwood also hosts the Girdwood Forest Fair every summer. Girdwood has the northernmost rain forest in the world. Long known as "the last frontier," much of Alaska remains very undeveloped. Read the following story from the Turnagain Times to better understand why.
Twelve years ago Lottie Michael, the senior vice president of Commercial Real Estate Alaska, got an idea to build a RV park in Girdwood, Alaska, at the South Townsite.
Two years ago she met with decision makers at the Heritage Land Bank, which manages city property including about 2,000 acres of land it owns in Girdwood. Michael is now pressing ahead with her proposal and meeting with various community organizations in Girdwood.
Michael is a 60-year-old, high-energy woman, who only stands about 5 feet 4 inches, but commands attention when she talks. On March 2, she approached members of Girdwood 2020 and her enthusiasm for the project filled the room during a 10-minute sales pitch for the RV Park.
First RV Park Venture
Michael started by introducing herself. She said she is the owner of a duplex in Girdwood that she built 20 years ago and has worked in real estate for 40 years. Eight years ago she bought a year-round RV park in Anchorage, the Golden Nugget, which is only one of two year-round such parks in the state.
Michael stated proudly that the Golden Nugget, located on Debarr Road, is a clean, well-run and safe RV park, and it’s the type of park she wants to build in Girdwood.
She said her project is supported by Alyeska Resort owner John Byrne and Girdwood Board of Supervisor Tommy O’Malley. She explained that the park would have about 100 spaces for RVs and also offer small cottages that are pre-fabricated and sell for around $38,000 delivered and set up on site. She expects to start with about 12 modules that are small two-story cottages about 36 feet long by 11 feet wide.
Michael said she will see how they sell and continue from there. “Every ski resort has an RV park,” she said. “I think people from Anchorage will come here and leave their RVs here for the winter.”
In a community where homes average well over $350,000, Michael envisions her cottages to be an affordable alternative for people in the community who can’t buy a house in Girdwood.
“I don’t want to put up low-income houses and leave them,” she said. “That’s not my goal…I don’t want it to look like a trailer park. It’s not a trailer park, although there’s nothing wrong with trailer parks.”
100-Site Resort Planned
Michael said she would need to acquire about 10 acres to fit 100 RVs, as well as the cottages. RV spaces could be rented daily for around $45 or at discounted rates if rented weekly, monthly or annually. She will also build a Laundromat, small general store that sells RV supplies, and showers.
Michael said there will be no tent camping; she believes tents are not compatible with RV campers.
There is already a campground in the South Townsite near where Michael wants to put the park, which she thinks would fit well in an area across from the baseball field near the community center and library off Egloff Road.
Michael said she is targeting a people that are lacking in options right now when visiting Girdwood. “Not everyone can afford to stay at the hotel or a B&B,” she said.
Schmoozing with the Locals
Michael next plans to meet with the Girdwood Trails Committee, Land Use Committee and the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. Then she will begin talks again with the HLB and Anchorage Assembly. She has already met with Assembly members Jennifer Johnston and Chris Birch, who represent Girdwood and South Anchorage.
Finally, Michael will have to submit a master plan to the HLB and the city Planning and Zoning Department.
“I haven’t heard from Lottie for about two years,” said Tammy Oswald, director of the real estate department at the Heritage Land Bank. “She gave us an application to acquire that property for purchase. After that, the application was submitted for public comment and the community came back and said they wanted the top portion where the fire station and community room and library are located.”
Oswald said the current plat on paper for the South Townsite, known as the squirrel cages, are what they call a paper plat, subdivided into very small parcels (3,000 square feet). However, that is about to change.
“What we’re trying to do is clean up the plat and convert it back to acreage and eliminate the parcels and revert back to tracks of land,” she said, “a bigger portion of land that could be broken down into parcels. I think we’re probably going to get it done in 2013 and then make the decision as to what to do next.”
The paper plat of South Townsite was done by the state of Alaska and the Department of Natural Resources and approved in June 30, 1966. The South Townsite area contains about 148 acres.
Michael hopes that once HLB converts the land to acreage she’ll be able to move forward and purchase the land she needs. In the meantime, she still has a lot of work to do before she is in a position to acquire the property.
Michael will also have to navigate through the zoning process to get approval for her project.
“Whatever the current zoning is will remain,” said Oswald. “As an applicant she will be responsible for changing the zoning if it needs to be changed to meet her needs. My goal is to get it reverted back to acreage, because currently right now we can’t do anything with it under than these little configurations, these squirrel cages. We’re not interested in developing the current configuration of the plat.”
Oswald, who has been at HLB for two years, said the municipality has owned the land around Girdwood since 1983, and the HLB was created to manage this and other municipal property.
Jerry Weaver is the community development director for Heritage Land Bank, and he said his department hasn’t seen any of Michael’s plans.
“The process you need to go through is to acquire or buy the property,” he said. “I don’t think Ms. Michael specified how much land she needs for the project. She would need to get a master plan approved by the planning and zoning department. The housing is permitted by right, but the camper park needs to be approved through a conditional use approval. I assume she’s after the GC-5 because it’s closest to the community center. The density does not allow less than four dwelling units per acre. Eight to 20 dwelling units is a conditional use approval. She needs to make clear what property she wants from the HLB, develop a master plan and apply for a conditional use permit for the camper park and dwelling units.”
After Michael’s presentation at Girdwood 2020 and a subsequent one-on-one interview with this reporter, she appears steadfast on seeing her project come to fruition, building the first RV park in the community.
“I think a lot of Girdwoodians can see this as a benefit,” she said. “To have working people here be able to afford a permanent home is a benefit.”