Whitehorse city council will consider opening up 13 parcels of land in existing neighbourhoods as a first step to providing thousands of homes over the next 15 years.
Proposed neighbourhoods include Mary Lake, MacPherson, Granger, Logan, Arkell, Porter Creek and Whitehorse Copper areas, city staff said in a presentation to council.
Depending on zoning and size, each proposed development would hold one to five lots, said Mike Ellis, acting manager of planning and sustainability.
These developments are laid out in the 2010 Official Community Plan, as well as the commitment to affordable housing outlined in the newly-updated strategic plan, city staff said.
Further development in the Whistle Bend area is not included in the plan, because that area has “been the major focus of development” for the last several years and the city needs to build in other areas to “ensure there is an adequate supply of housing and help ease escalation of housing prices,” staff wrote in a report to council.
Current population growth projections predict Whitehorse will need 4,500 new homes by 2031. Whistle Bend will eventually cover 3,500 of those new residences, with 1,000 new homes still required in other parts of the city.
Suites could also be built into houses, Ellis said, which would effectively create an additional rental unit, as is common in Whistle Bend.
The territorial government has very little land for sale in Whistle Bend, administration said. The city currently has no land for sale. This makes it necessary for the city to open land for development.
“Additional housing units will be needed in the city,” said Ellis. “In order to provide that, you need land.”
Coun. Samson Hartland wanted to know why land is so hard to come by.
“How is it that we have found ourselves in a position where the city has no land for sale?” he said.
“That’s a good and complication question,” Ellis said.
Ellis said that, unlike many municipalities in Canada, private companies do not own large swaths of land within the municipality. This means that when land is developed, the territorial government must absorb the cost of buiding roads, sewers and water mains before the lots can be sold.
“YG is actually in almost all cases the owner but we (the city and the territory) work together as a team,” he said.
The high cost of development means developable land is scarce, he said, both in Whitehorse and across the territory.
“No private developer in the territory has the capacity to do this,” Ellis said.
“As we continue to find ourself in the position (of having no land for sale) it only causes housing costs to rise,” said Hartland.
Ellis stresses the proposal is “only in the consultation phase.” If approved by council on May 23, consultation will begin almost immediately and run through until June 16. This would include heavy advertising of the proposal, online-based surveys and campaigns, signs on the new lots and input from the residents nearest the new lots, Ellis said.
“This makes sense from a city-wide perspective, to have more houses, but we realize it can be difficult for existing residents,” he said. “We want the public to help us find a way that is positive for as many people as possible.”
“This isn’t an overnight process,” Ellis said. “That’s not fair (to residents).”
The process is not as simple as clearing out some space and selling lots. Staff will also have to review zoning and environmental aspects of development. The proposed lots wouldn’t be available until “late fall at the very earliest, even winter,” Ellis said.
“The point is, it’s helpful whenever it comes.”
All the proposed development locations are currently in green spaces where there is little or no recreational activity, he said. Ellis admits this loss of green space might be hard for some residents to swallow.
“Nothing gets people excited like putting up lots,” said Coun. Rob Fendrick. “So this should be interesting.”
“We’ve gone through this process before. We know what to expect,” he said. “But Whitehorse is growing … how did that housing get there (in the first place)? It was all green space, once upon a time.”
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