Developers eye a bigger patch of sky

Taller buildings could cast a longer shadow on Whitehorse if council passes amendments to the downtown plan.

Taller buildings could cast a longer shadow on Whitehorse if council passes amendments to the downtown plan.

The amendments were raised in council Monday night and included the possibility of increasing the downtown building height to eight storeys from the current four-storey limit.

Council would have to approve projects if developers wished to build eight-storey buildings.

“Not just anybody will be allowed to (build eight-storey buildings,)” said councilor Doug Graham.

Anybody desiring an eight-storey building will have to get council’s approval, said Graham.

“It would be a conditional use and that’s what I agree with,” said Graham.

The city is considering conditions that would decide whether or not an eight-storey building is built, said senior city planner Zoe Morrison.

These conditions include, but aren’t limited to, respecting the views and natural light for existing buildings, using design elements that would enhance the architecture downtown, or offering a significant public amenity, including more green space, public art or access to natural features.

And they can’t negatively impact the surrounding properties.

Council’s conditional approval would have to go through first, second and third readings along with public consultation.

“I have a problem with the height of buildings in the downtown area,” said councilor Florence Roberts in an e-mail to the News.

 “I know we have to go up to create the available housing and density, but we have to respect what people in the area already have limited sunlight due to the escarpment and the river.

“We will have to be very diligent about where the ‘up’ goes within the confines of the downtown area.”

One of the city’s unique features is the four-storey height limit, especially around Main Street, said Morrison.

“It has a very particular feel, a particular style, and this discussion of building height has been on-going in the community for a while,” she said.

“There are always people who would think it’d be good to have taller buildings and people who really like the way it looks now.”

Graham would not oppose higher apartment buildings from Sixth Avenue towards the escarpment, away from the riverbank, as they would not block anybody’s sunlight and wouldn’t interfere with views of the river.

“I don’t have a problem with it as long as it is passed by city council first,” he said.

As well, it is more economical to build taller buildings, noted Graham.

If you’re going to go over three storeys you have to have an elevator,” he said.

“In today’s economy it doesn’t make much sense just to build four storeys — to make it economical you need six to eight.”

Piers McDonald, president of Northern Vision, a development company, is tentatively planning to build condominiums at Waterfront Place, along the riverfront. (This also requires a downtown plan amendment.)

His chances of being allowed to do this would be greatly improved if the building-height allowance were changed to eight storeys.

The downtown plan is part of the official community plan.

The official community plan may include the amendments to the downtown plan if they are passed by council.

First reading of the downtown plan amendments will be held January 15; a public notice will be served January 26 and a public hearing is scheduled for February 26.

Second reading will be held March 26 and third reading held April 10.