Whitehorse calls itself “The Wilderness City,” but our city council recently made it a lot more difficult for local residents to store some of the toys they like to use when they head out into nature.
I’m referring to a bylaw passed back in March that severely restricts where residents can store boats, RVs and trailers here in the city.
Between October and May, RVs and boats may now only be stored in a front yard if they are stored in the driveway and don’t “project further than 2.0 metres into a front yard.” For those readers who aren’t of the metric generation, that works out to about 6.5 feet – a distance which is less than even the smallest of RVs.
The restriction is relaxed for the summer months. A little bit. Between May and October you can store your RV out front but it still needs to be in a driveway and cannot be within “2 metres of the interior edge of a sidewalk or curb/edge of road if there is no sidewalk.”
Many Whitehorse properties are built to comply with a six-metre or 20-foot front yard setback requirement. So requiring that they be more than 6.5 feet from the street effectively means that many residents will now have about 13.5 feet of front yard space to work with. In other words, you better have some accessible side yard for storage if you have anything longer than a Boler trailer.
What is driving this new requirement?
One might envision a safety rationale for some sort for a setback at certain intersections. Perhaps recreational vehicles are blocking line of site. But corner lot owners actually get something of an exemption and are allowed to put their RV on one street facing side, so long as “screened from view with either fencing or landscaping”.
So the new bylaw must be about esthetics, which we are regularly reminded is in the eye of the beholder.
When I came across the bylaw recently, it occurred to me that very little debate and public discussion took place as the change made its way through council. Anecdotally it would seem to impact on a lot of people. Driving around my own neighbourhood I was able to quickly count dozens of offenders. You would have thought there would be more of an uproar.
Given the layout of some properties it could be an impossible bylaw to comply with. Other residents could make it work but would lose out on valuable and already scarce yard space in the process.
The subject of “toy storage” has become a bigger issue in recent years here in The Wilderness City as properties become smaller and smaller. Some older lots in Porter Creek and Riverdale measure as much as 100 feet by 200 feet. But when Copper Ridge and Whistle Bend were developed the lot sizes shrunk significantly, meaning less space to store things outside like trailers and boats. The movement towards more multifamily dwellings also puts a squeeze on where Whitehorse residents can store their outdoor “stuff.”
Hopefully some amount of discretion is used in how the bylaw is enforced. A lot of bylaw enforcement that goes on in this city is complaint driven. Bylaw doesn’t spend a lot of time driving around looking for violators of this or that bylaw. Maybe the new law won’t have much of an impact – it certainly hasn’t so far.
And it isn’t the only silly, meddlesome bylaw on the books that busybodies with an axe to grind can use in order to make life more difficult for their neighbours. I was surprised to learn a few year ago that the City’s maintenance bylaw provides for a maximum 10-centimetre (four-inch) height limit on grass. Yes you read that right. The Wilderness City has a law governing how long you can allow your grass to grow.
Ideally this new bylaw would simply be repealed. It is doubtful that it enjoys broad support in the community and it was passed quietly, with minimal discussion. To some extent it behooves all of us to pay closer attention to what our municipal politicians are up to. But the reality is that unless an issue receives significant coverage in the media we don’t even know about it.
Some of us need to pay attention to developments for professional reasons but usually do so after passage. And when most people here the words “zoning bylaw amendment” they go to see if they can find any paint they can watch dry instead.
This kind of meddlesome activity by council certainly doesn’t reflect the type of manicured, over-regulated city I want to live in. If people want to create new neighbourhoods where strict guidelines apply to maintain a certain standard of esthetics, that is more than fine, and the tools to create such communities exist. Our Condominium Act is more than sufficient for creating such communities. A developer could purchase a large block of properties and register restrictive covenants against the titles so that people are at least forewarned that such a requirement exists before buying in.
But micromanaging how we use our private property, city-wide like this? This is supposed to be The Wilderness City. We don’t live in Mississauga or Coquitlam.
Council ought to repeal this bylaw or perhaps it should consider a change to our slogan.
Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.