Letter to the Editor

Don’t downzone Old Town Open letter to mayor and council: We own a house in the area that your latest downtown plan refers to as “Old…

Don’t downzone Old Town

Open letter to mayor and council:

We own a house in the area that your latest downtown plan refers to as “Old Town.”

Currently, multi-family housing is a conditional use in this area, and a number of duplexes and small apartment buildings have been developed accordingly.

I believe the advice council is receiving from city staff and consultants, to downzone this area to single-family housing, is seriously flawed.

This residential area is one of the best locations to walk from home to shopping and to work.

Currently there is an imbalance between jobs and housing in the downtown —more than 50 per cent of Whitehorse jobs are downtown, but only 15 per cent of population lives there.

We need more housing downtown, not less.

Residential areas near downtown are desirable for seniors and people with disabilities — they provide easy access to shopping, services and jobs by walking, transit and wheelchair.

Services such as transit and shopping will only get better if density is increased and more people live in the area.

Higher density housing is much more energy efficient than single-family housing — there is no better form of insulation than having another unit next door or above you.

Multi-family housing is also more efficient in terms of servicing. There is less sidewalk, street, water and sewer pipe to install and maintain for each unit.

Public transit runs more frequently and is less costly in terms of taxpayer subsidy if people live at higher density.

Who will benefit from down-zoning? Not low and moderate-income families — they can’t afford a house that has to occupy a whole lot.

Single-family zoning does help those with a higher income — because lower income people who are willing to share a lot are prevented from even competing with them.

This is called exclusionary zoning.

By limiting the number of lots where medium density housing can be built the city pushes up their cost.

Social housing requires land that is zoned for medium density and is affordable — by limiting the supply of this land the city is making social housing more expensive — making social housing more difficult to develop downtown and pushing it to the periphery of the city – where many of the residents will be more dependent on expensive public transit.

Why is there a huge contrast in downtown densities?

In one part you appear to be prepared to consider eight-storey buildings, yet in another area, quite nearby, your staff and consultants say only single family should be allowed.

Why are they not recommending something more moderate, such as medium-density housing, for all downtown residential areas?

I believe your proposed downtown plan contains a number of contradictions: on one hand, claiming to be concerned about more affordable housing, better public transit, improved environment, while on the other hand actually recommending a lower residential density for a large part of downtown, thus leading to housing that is more expensive, less energy efficient, and less viable for public transit.

I would like to see this plan sent back to the drawing board.

It doesn’t make the downtown more livable for moderate-income people, including seniors and people with disabilities.

If this is not your choice, then, at the very least, do not adopt Amendment No. 3 to the OCP.

Don’t downzone Old Town and don’t eliminate multi-family housing as a conditional use.

I provided these comments to your planners at an open house during the consultation process on this plan and am disappointed to see that they do not appear to have been considered.

Carl Evers

Whitehorse

Something fishy

about fee hikes

It is interesting to read that the federal gasoline tax money and the Municipal Rural Infrastructure funding that has been rolling into Whitehorse coffers is being extended for four more years.

According to councillor Doug Graham, Whitehorse stands to receive about $7 million per year from the gas tax alone, not to mention the infrastructure funding.

In our submission to city council concerning increases in utility fees in the 2007 budget, the Utilities Consumers’ Group argued that with all this infrastructure money coming from the feds, there is no need to raise fees for maintaining and operating our water, sewer and garbage services.

You not only ignored this portion of our presentation, but also the fact that the city is receiving, through its present utility charges, approximately $1 million more than the cost of providing these municipal services every year to your citizens, i.e. there is a surplus in the water/sewer schedule of an average of a million dollars per year.

As a further example, increased charges for the sewage treatment reserve was introduced by the city in 1991 when we were in the process of building a new high-cost sewage lagoon.

It was likely needed at the time, but has never been dismantled. Instead, it has simply been absorbed into the city’s general revenues as the now-named water and sewer reserve.

How convenient.

As a result, Utilities Consumers’ Group has been arguing citizens have been overcharged for these services for more than 10 years. The argument has been ignored.

Almost three months have now passed since Utilities Consumers’ Group made its submission to the city and we have not received any type of feedback from anyone at city hall, which we certainly requested and expected.

So, with exception of a copy of the administrative public input report prepared January 22, which conspicuously left out any public input on which consumers’ group is mentioned, there is no mention of our organization making two submissions, nor any mention of our concerns, issues or recommendations.

If council only looks at the administrative reports for so-called public input, on which you base decisions, then my perception of the whole process is that it is a complete farce.

Of most concern to Utilities Consumers’ Group is that the city is by far the most difficult utility service provider that our advocacy organization has to deal with … in all our years of intervening in city affairs the only time we were actually listened to was when mayor Kathy Watson implemented the week-long free dump service for spring clean-up.

Now that I have given a preamble of history and facts, here are some questions:

Given the information above and the fact that consumers’ group presented council with an in-depth analysis of the situation, as well as the fact that our neighbours to the east, (Yellowknife) have not increased their utility fees since 1995 and will not do so this year due to the Federal Municipal Rural Infrastructure and the Gas Tax Rebate Program, why did Whitehorse city council advance the three-per-cent increase in our utility fees?

Given the fact that your own bylaw states that you must recover 100 per cent of the costs to provide utility municipal services, are you not breaking your own law by charging 133 per cent, or more, for such services?

Rather than placing this $7 million from the federal gas tax money and whatever amount is forwarded on the infrastructure money into general revenues this year, to spend as council so wishes without public debate, will you instead place such money into a reserve fund for next year’s budget to be open to a public forum on how it should be spent?

How do you rationalize the need for a reserve fund for water and sewer operation and maintenance when you are mandated to recover 100 per cent of the costs to provide these services for each given year?

Is not your administration using these funds to bump up general revenues to provide extra money for capital costs or overruns?

Given the fact that you have this reserve fund plus another environmental reserve fund charged on these same services, and the fact that you are budgeted to spend $595,000 on administrative studies (when you have a highly paid administration to do such work), plus several thousand dollars given to environmental groups for 2007, how do you explain to your public that this has not become a “slush fund”?

Due to all of the above and the fact that you have also increased our utility rates by 10.5 per cent in the last four years, will you now promise to lower our utility fees next year by at least half of this amount, or will you need the excuse of your so-called public consultation first?

Roger Rondeau

President, Utilities Consumers’ Group