I would like to respond to statements regarding the Whistle Bend development made by Sandy Silver, interim leader of the Yukon Liberal Party and MLA for the Klondike, and Kate White, MLA for Takhini, during proceedings of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Recently, I attended the Northern Housing Conference where Avi Friedman, an expert on affordable housing, spoke of the importance of dense, walkable, transit-friendly neighbourhoods that provide affordable housing options. I was impressed with the presentation as it validated much of the city’s planning work in relation to the Whistle Bend development in terms of making a range of lot sizes and types (detached, semi-detached, multifamily homes) available for development. I was, therefore, surprised to learn of the criticisms of the Whistle Bend development, particularly those in relation to lot size.
In my view, the city’s focus on neighbourhoods with a smaller footprint is particularly important if we are to assure a stable supply of affordable housing for the future. I believe Whistle Bend’s 3,500 units achieve this goal. By limiting the size of these lots, we sought to lower land development costs by spreading the total development costs over more lots. This is what keeps the cost down. You can’t have bigger urban lot sizes for a lower price tag.
The high-density approach employed at Whistle Bend has additional benefits. Smaller lots allowed the city to retain half of the 700-hectare site as park land. By establishing a neighbourhood over a smaller area we are able to conserve wilderness area. We also expect to see a variety of shops and services in this area, at a level no other neighbourhood in the city will have. Finally, the cost of providing services, such as municipal transit and snowplowing, and maintaining roads, sidewalks, and water and infrastructure, is more efficient and less costly.
Most importantly, our studies show only increasing demand for smaller housing. The two largest segments of the home-buying market are looking for smaller rather than larger homes. These are the “baby boomers” looking to downsize, and their children, the first time home-buyers, seeking reasonably-priced housing.
I do not accept the suggestion that Whistle Bend suffers from “poor planning.” To the contrary, the planning at Whistle Bend stands as the most inclusive land-planning engagement process in the Yukon’s history, and strongly reflects the public’s demand for sustainable land development.
Certainly, many lots remain available for purchase. I prefer this situation, however, to the situation in our recent past when a shortage in available lots caused a housing crisis. In closing, I support the work of our planning services department, as did the Association of Yukon Municipalities and Yukon Energy when in 2007 they awarded the city the Yukon Sustainable Communities Award to recognize our inclusive, sustainable planning approach to the Whistle Bend development.
Mayor Dan Curtis