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A Question of Trust

What’s a citizen to do?There is clearly much confusion about Thursday’s citywide referendum on subdivision planning.

What’s a citizen to do?

There is clearly much confusion about Thursday’s citywide referendum on subdivision planning.

Well, let’s start with the referendum question.

Really, it’s pretty simple.

It states: “Do you approve passage of Bylaw 2006-11, (which requires) a planning study and a green space map as part of the preliminary development process for any new residential development of any size, and a plebiscite (vote) to approve the greenspace map?”

In plain English: A plan has to be drafted before someone starts building houses, and that plan must include a map showing which trails and trees will be preserved.

That greenspace map must be approved by citizens through a vote — presumably to stop slick developers from meeting their greenspace requirements by preserving a cliff face.

So on paper the bylaw is pretty straightforward.

But the chatter surrounding it has been pretty heated, and confusing.

What’s going on?

The whole affair has its roots in a city screwup.

It failed to accurately plan for and supply new housing lots.

In a panic, and to cut costs, it decided to build in well-used chunks of boreal forest in Riverdale and Porter Creek.

Residents opposed the city plans. Meetings were held and, following them, residents felt planners weren’t listening to their concerns.

The Porter Creek Community Association took action, exploiting the little used referendum clause on the city books. More than 2,000 people signed the association’s petition, forcing the city to draft the aforementioned bylaw.

The law was drafted by the city, but, clearly, it doesn’t like this whole situation one bit.

In fact, it is acting like a snared animal.

Councillors are writing letters opposed to the bylaw and the city has drafted voice-of-doom advertising that urges citizens to veto the proposed bylaw.

It’s going to cost tons of money and will stall needed development, it says.

The city’s ace in the hole is three words that bylaw drafters worked into the proposed bylaw.

It reads, “for any development, of any size.”

It’s that “of any size” that causes a problem.

It makes the bylaw personal.

Suddenly, if Joe Citizen in Porter Creek with a large lot wants to split it in two, they’ll have to go through a planning exercise and map out a greenspace plan.

Realistic? Nope.

City officials insist they had to put the no- exceptions clause in the law.

That, too, stretches credibility.

Generally, the public isn’t concerned about a single lot division.

The intent of the law was to assure residents that substantial new housing developments were planned properly and that adequate amounts of greenspace were protected — to ensure Whitehorse doesn’t morph into a drab string of vinyl-sided houses disconnected from the boreal forest that surrounds it.

It is a law born out of a lack of trust between city officials and constituents.

Throughout the process, the city has done little to bolster confidence.

In drafting the law, the city bobbled the wording — intentionally or accidentally, we don’t know — and citizens are stuck with it.

You have to vote on a law that will force a single person to map out the greenspace they’ll protect.

Stupid? Absolutely.

If the bylaw is passed, amending it will have to come later.

So, once again, what’s a citizen to do?

Well, the city is growing and it has to develop more housing lots.

The city must also boost its population density — doing so makes sense economically (it’s cheaper to put in sewer and water), it increases the viability of city services (like transit), it’s good for local business (easy access to customers) and it preserves the wild areas surrounding the city, among other benefits.

But, to do so, city planners have to carve out more lots near existing subdivisions.

That will eat into precious greenspace, and it will impact existing residences.

And, eventually, the city will have to build a new subdivision on Porter Creek’s lower bench.

The question is, as Whitehorse grows, do citizens trust city officials to preserve their interests as they plan these developments?

Will city planners create something beautiful, or crammed?

And do citizens want to see and vet the city plans before they are implemented?

It boils down to trust.

Do you trust the city to protect your interests, or not?

And, if not, what are you going to do about it? (RM)