Neil Hartling was one of several delegates to speak out on the proposed Official Community Plan at a public hearing during Whitehorse city council’s Sept. 12 meeting. Ahead of the meeting, he presented his argument with a sign outside city hall. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Neil Hartling was one of several delegates to speak out on the proposed Official Community Plan at a public hearing during Whitehorse city council’s Sept. 12 meeting. Ahead of the meeting, he presented his argument with a sign outside city hall. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

19 speakers bring concerns to Whitehorse city council over 20-year plan

Council hears concerns over proposed OCP

Standing on the steps of Whitehorse City Hall ahead of the Sept. 14 city council meeting, Neil Hartling set the tone for the forthcoming public hearing.

Hartling stood with the sign calling for “No road through McIntyre Creek Valley,” a possibility contemplated in the proposed Official Community Plan (OCP) to be discussed at the hearing. The OCP acts as an overall planning guide for the city over the next 20 years.

The document identifies the possibility for a transportation corridor through the area, but notes a study would first be needed to identify whether a corridor is needed, triggering further impact studies.

Hartling was one of 19 people to speak at the hearing on a variety of issues. Another 97 written submissions came in highlighting suggestions, concerns and support for the document. Many, like Hartling, focused on the potential for a road through the McIntyre Creek area. Others highlighted concerns about the plan’s potential impact on specific neighbourhoods, argued for a greater emphasis on climate change and the environment, called for the potential Stevens Quarry to be taken off the table and highlighted issues around housing and short-term accommodations.

McIntyre Creek

“It defies reason,” Hartling said in an interview, describing his reaction to the possibility of a road through McIntyre Creek.

Like many who spoke, Hartling pointed out the city has, on one hand, identified the area as a park while also contemplating the road as a possibility.

The area is used regularly by many as a quiet, recreational space and during the pandemic it provided mental health benefits to many, he said.

In some spots it’s impossible to hear any nearby roads, Hartling said, describing it as an important wildlife corridor as well.

He argued instead of paving a vehicle route through the area, the city needs to focus on a more intelligent use of its current roadways and make progress with its transit system.

Similar arguments came forward from other speakers who shared their own experiences as users of the area and highlighted information showing a variety of wildlife in the McIntyre Creek area, urging council to take the potential for a road out of the proposed OCP.

“It isn’t too late to conserve McIntyre Creek,” Maegan Elliott, conservation coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Yukon Chapter, said.

As Yukon NDP Leader Kate White, who serves as the MLA for Takhini-Kopper King, said: “You can’t undo a road.”

Neighbourhood possibilities

Potential changes to a variety of areas of town were also highlighted with residents living on and around Tamarack Drive in Porter Creek representing a large voice. They called on the city to remove a section of the proposed OCP that calls for “development areas along Whistle Bend Way and near Holly Street to be examined for future residential developments.”

As residents described, the forested areas there are an important recreational spot for many. Residents walk their dogs while kids are often seen playing and in the colder months tobogganing.

Similar to McIntyre Creek, the area has also played a positive role throughout the pandemic, it was argued.

“It was a sanctuary for people to gather,” Tom Luxemburger told council.

Others also stressed the site as a place residents continue to frequent every day and noted the fox dens, birds and other wildlife there.

In the downtown, density and building height limits were the focus.

While the city’s zoning bylaw will ultimately dictate both density and height limits, the OCP is used as a guiding document on all city planning with policies that set the direction on density and building heights. A rewrite of the zoning bylaw typically follows the adoption of the OCP to bring zoning in line with the OCP.

Nathan Miller, who lives in the Old Town part of downtown, argued more work needs to be done on the proposed density changes. He pointed out the last OCP in 2010 resulted in an increased density in Old Town from two units per lot to four, setting the stage for a number of changes to housing in the neighbourhood. A change in this proposed OCP could see a further increase to six units per lot, a change that may not protect the character of the neighbourhood, Miller argued. He questioned how six units could be built on a lot and noted an answer would be needed before the vision is clear.

He recommended the city take out the proposed density change for now and talk to area residents before a decision is made.

Meanwhile, Northern Vision Development chief project officer Gary Gazankas called for changes to the proposed building height limits, pointing out in some areas the proposed building height is less than what is there now. Building height limits would range from 10 metres to 30 metres in the downtown core depending on the area, with riverfront areas having a restriction of 10 metres while 30-metre structures would be considered on an individual basis north of Main Street and east of Fourth Avenue. The standard building height there would be 25 metres.

Gazankas proposed a number of areas with higher limits for buildings, noting, for example, waterfront buildings are already more than 10 metres.

“It seems to be out of step with previous and current developments,” he said.

Environment and climate change

A number of delegates argued the need to focus more on climate change and the environment, calling for stronger wording to policies, a bylaw and policy to address light pollution and improvements to transit and active transportation to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Stevens Quarry

A number of residents living in in the north end of the city argued against the OCP once again identifying the Stevens area for quarry development. It’s a situation that’s been come up three times since the 1990s. They urged the city to zone the area as environmental protection, citing the impact quarry development — and the noise and dust that could come from it — could have on area agriculture, quality of life and the forested areas many residents enjoy, in particular the nearby Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest.

“Everybody enjoys this area,” Debbie Last said. “It’s very special.”

Housing and accommodations

The city heard differing views on accommodations.

While Ben Pereira, president and CEO of Neighbourly North (a local alternative to Airbnb in short term accommodations) argued against a proposal outlined to look at the impact of short-term rentals and consider if further management is needed, Copper Ridge resident Saba Javed called for the regulating of short-term rentals in addition to other measures aimed at addressing the housing crisis in the city.

If short-term rentals remain unregulated, she said, the city would continue to lose affordable housing options to short-term vacation rentals.

“It’s also incredibly unfair to other businesses like bed and breakfasts and hotels who are regulated and are treated as the businesses that they are,” she said.

Pereira, on the other hand, pointed to a 2019 survey done by the city that saw residents express support for short-term rentals and noted Neighbourly North has worked with the likes of the Council of Yukon First Nations to make short-term rentals available for those needing the accommodations while they transition to permanent housing, along with accommodations that have been made available to those in the health care industry, contractors and others.

“I see no cause and effect relationship between short term rental activity and housing statistics like median rents, vacancy rates or home prices in Whitehorse,” he said, adding the percentage of rentals through Neighbourly North is insignificant compared to the creation of new housing in the city. He also pointed out that many who rent their property through Neighbourly North need the space personally at certain times, making it impossible to rent out the spaces long-term.

“We believe that some percentage of the housing market should be available to rent short-term as it always has,” Pereira said. “Now this leads me to believe that the city is playing with dynamite [in] considering regulating a subsection of the lodging and housing markets that they do not understand. It does not require a strong imagination to see the potential consequences of disrupting our customers are disastrous. Moreover, this proposal is problematic because it is fundamentally undemocratic and paternalistic.”

Next steps

A report on the public hearing will come forward Oct. 3 with council scheduled to vote on second reading of the OCP on Oct. 11.

If second reading is approved, a ministerial review would be required under the territory’s Municipal Act. The review could take up to 45 days to be done.

Provided the new plan makes its way through the review, third reading and adoption would then come forward for a vote Dec. 12.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Whitehorse city council

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