Sooner or later the city must look up, civic leaders say

This week council nixed the possibility of highrises in downtown Whitehorse. Monday, politicians voted to retain a citywide restriction on the…

This week council nixed the possibility of highrises in downtown Whitehorse.

Monday, politicians voted to retain a citywide restriction on the height of buildings.

Shelving plans to allow eight-storey buildings, it will retain its four-storey height restriction.

Whitehorse needs taller buildings, said councillor Dave Austin.

Still, he voted against removing the cap.

“This isn’t over as far as I’m concerned,” said Austin.

“I don’t have any objection to the size of the buildings downtown, I just don’t want Whitehorse looking like Calgary or Vancouver,” said councillor Florence Roberts.

“I do not want to see the character of our downtown destroyed,” she said.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has been working to curb development outside the city’s central core, said Rick Karp, its president.

The chamber has helped draft a downtown plan, a retail and waterfront development strategy with various levels of government, he said.

 “Part of that has been to prevent development from moving out of downtown.

“It’s very important that we have the capacity to increase density in the downtown core.”

With downtown space running out, the only way to expand is up, said Karp.

Yellowknife has tall office buildings, he noted.

“It’s important that developers have the option of going up,” he said.

“It’s not going to destroy the character of our downtown; it’s going to enhance it.”

Restricting buildings to four storeys will force developers to come to council and try to amend the Official Community Plan, said councillor Graham.

“Don’t you think this is a reasonable way of controlling thing,” he said to Karp.

Karp said southern developers with “deep pockets” who want to build in Whitehorse come into his office almost weekly.

“It’s very important we don’t leave the height restrictions as four storeys,” he said.

“It is very important that we allow developers to go to six or eight storeys and encourage rather than hinder that building process.”

Council must consider the future growth of the city and raise building heights, said former mayor Ernie Bourassa, who attended the meeting as a private citizen.

“The downtown needs development; eight storeys will make it more affordable to do that,” said Bourassa.

“You get a better return on investment.”

Building highrise apartment buildings downtown, where people can live where they work, will show that Whitehorse is doing its part to help the environment, said Bourassa.

 “In an era of global warming, we should allow people to live where they work and work where they live; it would help with greenhouse gases as people would be inspired to take the bus or walk to work,” he said.

“It is a way to help without adversely affecting people’s pockets.”

Tall-building owners would have to pay increased taxes, said Bourassa, which would also benefit the city.

Having people live in apartment buildings near Main Street would make the street safer at night as older residents would frequent the area, he said.

“Do you want the downtown to be as it is now, or do you want it to be vibrant?” he asked council.