City should not
be land developer
Although I am currently in Juneau because I have had to leave the Yukon to find work as a teacher, my heart is still in the Yukon.
I was especially concerned about recent articles in the Yukon News.
I read that while Whitehorse lobbies for ownership of Crown lands, it is selling land that it already owns.
In most cities, the municipal government owns land specifically for use in municipal projects and parks. They do not try to “flip” the land.
There are good reasons for this.
One is the cost of buying new land.
There will be a need for new buildings and services in existing neighbourhoods and downtown.
Unless the city has available land, the cost of any new projects will be astronomical.
Costs for projects such as a community or youth centre are often cited as reasons these projects cannot proceed.
Why then is land in downtown (Motorways) and the neighbourhoods (Stan McCowen Arena) being put up for sale?
In the case of the Motorways land, it was purchased with millions of dollars of taxpayer money and sold for who knows what.
Accountability for land sales and a clear process for selling public land are not in place.
Government is not and should not be a land developer or broker.
It, has neither the expertise nor the arms-length relationship to the land development process to do so.
The city cannot be the land developer and also the watchdog for land development.
Anyone hired to provide expertise to the city to do land development is likely to actually be in the land development business.
This is a business prone to use of insider knowledge and cronyism.
Many years ago there was a scandal in Whitehorse over the land that is now the parking lot at Steele Street.
People’s homes were destroyed for city sanctioned “urban renewal” and a development scheme proposed.
When questions were raised about how this all came about, many well-meaning city politicians got caught in the net of the appearance of impropriety.
This can and will happen again in Whitehorse if the city becomes a land developer or broker.
The municipality is largely funded from taxes on land.
The municipality should deal with all taxpayers on a fair basis.
The city cannot do so if they have an interest in developing land and making a profit on its sale.
This is why there are new streets and good infrastructure in new developments and unpaved streets and dated infrastructure elsewhere.
Despite arguments about cost sharing, this is the bottom line — money can be made for the city coffers by putting in new subdivisions with shiny new streets, but the city won’t make money by updating streets and sewers in old neighbourhoods.
Even more troubling, the new land protocol allows government to sell land at a profit, not just to cover development costs.
It is in the city administration’s interest, for their financial bottom line, to build new subdivisions while letting downtown rot.
However, it is not in the Whitehorse taxpayer’s interest.
Using taxes to build new subdivisions and megaprojects does not grow an economy, it just moves money from one person’s pocket (the taxpayer) to another’s.
With new subdivisions going up non-stop, taxes have gone up, not down — despite the city’s line that we need to build, build, build to control taxes.
Changes are being proposed for the Municipal Act.
I am asking that one change to the Act would be to prohibit any municipality from taking on the role of land developer/broker as it is a conflict of interest.
An arm’s-length metropolitan board should administer land sales if the city does not approve of YTG’s track record.
I encourage all Yukon citizens to become aware of any changes to the Municipal Act and put in your comments so that your interests do not get gobbled up.
You can be sure that municipalities, developers and special interests will be doing so, if you are not.