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2009 OCP has more green, less teeth

Taller buildings, four new protected parks and a request to ban mineral staking throughout the city are some of the proposed changes for the 2009 Official Community Plan.

Taller buildings, four new protected parks and a request to ban mineral staking throughout the city are some of the proposed changes for the 2009 Official Community Plan.

But additional amendments to the plan have also stripped it of the legislative muscle to ensure any of these future changes are carried through.

Thursday, the city released a draft of the plan, which will guide all development for the next 20 years.

At a council and special management meeting, councillors reviewed and provided feedback on the document before it is opened to public review in January.

In addition to results from the 21 community consultations conducted over the last year, city planners issued a map of Whitehorse, resembling a Spanish omelette, with proposed land changes blocked out in different colours.

Noticeable on the map is a ‘green network plan’ outlining all recreation and environmentally sensitive areas to be protected from development. The network plan includes four new park designations for Paddy’s Pond, McLean Lake, Chadburn Lake and McIntyre Creek, areas the public has wanted protected.

Although green space has increased from what is laid out in the 2002 Official Community Plan, some areas will lose their protected status.

That includes the area south of Bald Hill, known as Porter Creek D, which will lose its greenbelt status; some park reserve areas on Grey Mountain that have been marked for future development; and the expansion of the industrial designation along McLean Lake Road to include the new concrete batch plant in that area.

The plan also proposes changes to the city’s downtown building height, allowing buildings to be 25 metres instead of 20 and removing the four-storey maximum height designation.

The city will also request the minister of Energy, Mines And Resources place a 100 per cent ban on mineral staking in the city.

However, that decision rests on the government’s interpretation of the Yukon Quartz Mining Act, which may eventually land the territory and the city in court.

There are also amendments that dilute the authority of the Official Community Plan.

The city wants to remove all instances of “shall” that appear in the plan and replace them with the word “may.”

“If we put in words like ‘shall’ then it means this specific things has to happen,” said city manager, Dennis Shewfelt.

“We shouldn’t confine council that way.”

The city is also proposing the document no longer be adopted as a bylaw. Currently, council isn’t forced to follow everything laid out in the document, but it legally can’t allow any development that contradicts the document.

Considered added “flexibility” by city officials, the new designation will further weaken the Official Community Plan, said Marianne Darragh..

“This is a watering down of the document,” she said. “It seems the city is now sowing their oats from that court case.”

As a result of the Darragh court case, the city has chosen to also strike the referendum policy from its 2009 Official Community Plan.

Until now, the document mandated that all lands designated ‘greenbelt,’‘environmental protection’ or ‘park reserve’ required a referendum before getting a new land designation.

“As a result of the (Darragh) court case, this policy was deemed illegal, so we have to remove it,” said senior planner, Mike Ellis.

The only recourse for citizens concerned about a change of land designation is a plebiscite.

“So if an area is considered industrial and a group of people want to build a CANDU reactor on it, there would be no referendum?” asked Ranj Pillai at Thursday’s meeting.

He wasn’t the only councillor a bit hesitant to strike the policy from the plan. Dave Stockdale also voiced some concern.

“I don’t know how you can do it. (Citizens) get a petition together and then we can just say ‘no’ (to a referendum) and turn that around without some other process?”

But the new referendum policy was welcome news for councillor Betty Irwin.

“Referendums aren’t a good way of gauging public opinion, anyway; a plebiscite is,” she said adding that referendums are legally binding.

“With a referendum, council can’t weigh both sides. We’re bound by the outcome of the referendum.”

Councillors will continue to make changes to the document before a later version of the Official Community Plan is presented in the new year.

That presentation will allow citizens to give feedback on the final version of the document.

Contact Vivian Belik