A proposed residential development in a Porter Creek greenspace has left Yukon Resources minister Archie Lang facing charges of impropriety in the Yukon legislature, and may land Whitehorse in Supreme Court.
The controversy began at this week’s council meeting when Daryl Novakowski showed up with a blueprint to develop 44 residential lots in a Porter Creek greenspace, owned by the Crown.
To build in greenspace, a developer must ask for an official community plan amendment and rezoning.
But, to do that, the developer needs the landowner’s permission and Novakowski got it straight from Lang.
Meanwhile, Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa and a handful of city councillors have publicly opposed the 44-lot development.
But the would-be developer, Novakowski, is undeterred.
And the dispute may land the city in Supreme Court, said Novakowski.
“Mayor and council have formed an opinion prior to first reading; it’s biased and they should step down,” said Novakowski, who plans to push the development forward no matter what.
“I’ll take it to the maximum; Ernie hasn’t seen how far somebody can take it,” said Novakowski. “Once he’s stepped on my toes, it’s the wrong person.”
Lang is sounding a bit less pugnacious.
“The government has no position on the future use of these lands,” said Lang.
“I’ve only given him a letter of comfort to put this in front of mayor and council to see if there’s any appetite.
“City hall makes the final decision,” Lang said, repeating a line he’s used many times in the past two days. “It’s in their corner. All they have to do is say yes or no.”
But the city has already made up its mind.
In fact it decided in November 2005 to ask the Yukon government to transfer the area to the city as a park.
“The city sent a letter and verbally requested that Yukon’s lands branch re-survey the entire Holly Street area into one lot and transfer it, as a park, to the city,” said Bourassa.
The city has been corresponding with the Resources department, but Lang knew nothing of the proposal.
“No, the land has been sitting there and nobody’s approached me on a park,” said Lang Tuesday.
“As far as the city approaching us, I have nothing on record that says they approached us for a park there,” said Lang.
That application would have gone through the Community Services department, said Lang on Wednesday.
However, Community Services officials refer all queries to Lang’s Energy, Mines and Resources department.
The application to turn the land into a park did not go through Community Services, said Gerry Gerein, acting assistant deputy minister of community development for Community Services.
“Energy, Mines and Resources is leading that and the best contact there is Lyle Henderson,” said Gerein.
Despite repeated requests for an interview, Henderson, the lands branch director, has been unavailable.
“Energy, Mines and Resources and the government of Yukon meets with the city on a monthly basis and there are numerous issues that go back and forth all the time,” said Greg Komaromi, assistant deputy minister for sustainable resources.
“And there have been a number of correspondences around this particular piece of land.”
That’s confirmed by a series of letters between city manager Dennis Shewfelt and Resources department lands branch director Lyle Henderson dating back to November 2005.
In them, the city rebuffs Yukon requests to consider an official community plan amendment to allow lot development on the Holly Street parcel.
Degrees of separation
Archie Lang has been pummeled in the legislature all week.
Opposition members charged Lang with meddling in the city’s affairs.
Lang is taking “a father-knows-best approach to a municipal government,” said NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.
“Why should the city even have a planning department or consult the public on development issues if the government is going to second-guess them at every turn?”
Meanwhile the Liberals have their own take.
“The minister can deny it all he wants, but the Yukon Party government has already helped out its Yukon Party friend,” said Liberal MLA Gary McRobb.
Novakowski calls the charges of nepotism and backroom deals “ridiculous.”
“I challenge them to say that outside of that room and I’ll sue them instantly,” said Novakowski.
“When someone like (Liberal MLA Pat Duncan) accuses you of taking a bribe — actually my lawyers are waiting for her to say anything outside of that legislative assembly,” said the would-be developer.
Novakowski maintains he is not Lang’s friend. The first time he met the minister was when he asked for the letter.
Novakowski was a Yukon Party member, but he didn’t renew his membership in 2006 because “there might be a conflict of interest,” he said Friday.