Backlash begins against new Riverdale lots

Gerard Bluteau, 72, has one great pleasure in life: strolling through the forest trails near his Riverdale Manor home, taking a seat at a bench he has built and feeding crushed walnut bits to chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Gerard Bluteau, 72, has one great pleasure in life: strolling through the forest trails near his Riverdale Manor home, taking a seat at a bench he has built and feeding crushed walnut bits to chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

But that pleasure could soon disappear if Whitehorse city planners have their way. They want to cut down the trees where Bluteau and other elderly residents take their daily stroll and build houses in their place.

The area in question is a 4.7-hectare swath of forest between Boswell Crescent and Firth Road in Riverdale. Sure, there’s plenty of forest nearby. But Bluteau can’t walk far.

On good days, as many as a dozen elderly folks join him in his stroll through the woods. Bluteau started hanging birdhouses there four years ago, and the area now bustles with birds when he arrives in the late morning.

“It’s something that’s pretty precious for us,” he said. “We have so little to look forwards to – especially people who don’t have anybody, like me. My family back east have all passed away. My wife died 11 years ago.”

He’s starting a petition. And he’s not the only one upset. About five years ago, Riverdale residents howled at the city’s plans to in-fill several green spaces on the neighbourhood’s fringes. The city backed off.

But when the city unveiled its latest development plans in late February, the in-fills had returned.

“I’m totally ready for a big fight over it,” said Laura Hansen. She lives on Boswell, and her property backs on to the green space.

She’s already called Ted Staffen, MLA for Riverdale North. He and Glenn Hart, MLA for Riverdale South, both fought the original in-fill plans. Staffen remains opposed, said Hansen. She has also contacted the Riverdale Community Association.

Expect the howling to pick up shortly.

The city sent letters on February 22 to Riverdale residents, informing them of the proposed development that have yet to be approved by council. But Hansen said that she and her neighbours never received copies.

Hansen bought her home 13 years ago. At the time, one of the property’s selling points was that it backed onto the forest, which remains, for now, zoned as green space.

“You pay top dollar because it’s on green space,” she said. “It’s just not fair.”

But realtors and house-hunters would counter there’s plenty of unfairness in the current arrangement.

The shortage of residential lots in Whitehorse has driven up the price of properties to a point where it’s hard for young couples to afford a first home. And those who can afford a home can take a number: realtors have double-digit lists of clients.

Mid-priced homes, with prices between $200,000 to $400,000, have virtually disappeared from the market.

And new lots are soon snapped-up. When the city held a lottery draw for 12 lots in Takhini North on Tuesday, it had 71 applicants.

This could all be bad news for the local economy. It’s hard to attract new residents when there’s no place to live.

What caused this shortage? In the view of Mike Racz, president of the Yukon Real Estate Association, it’s partly because the city backed-down on plans to build in-fills in places like Riverdale five years ago. Now, we’re paying the price.

Pent-up demand should ease after the city’s next big new neighbourhood, Whistle Bend, is ready in 2012. Until then, the simplest solution is to build in-fill in existing neighbourhoods, said city planner Mike Gau.

Under the city’s original scheme, the Riverdale in-fill would have added 41 single-family houses to the market. Given the current push to build higher-density homes, some of these lots would likely be zoned for duplexes or multi-family dwellings if the project went ahead, said Gau.

From a planner’s point of view, Bluteau’s bird-feeding haven is the perfect place to build a new street. It’s close to existing roads and water and sewage pipes, making it cheaper to build than a new neighbourhood.

And Mayor Bev Buckway wants a greener city. Part of that means cutting back on sprawl.

Realtors have attacked the city’s push for denser developments, with more duplexes and fewer single-family lots. They say this isn’t what people want.

The results of the recent Takhini North lottery may support this assertion: the vast majority of bidders vied for one property that was one of the few single-family lots on offer.

The city’s been aware for some time there’s a shortage of single-family lots, said Gau. But it needs to consider the “character” of duplex-heavy Takhini, he said.

Still, the next phase of Takhini North will have 30 single-family lots and just 12 duplexes, said Gau. “We made some adjustments,” he said.

And new additions to the Ingram subdivision will bring another 37 single-family lots later this year.

Both Hansen and Bluteau wonder how a city as large as Whitehorse could have such difficulty finding space for new homes without eating into existing greenspace.

But about one-third of the land within city limits is considered too mountainous to build on. Take away First Nation land, greenspace and the oil-contaminated tank farm property and you’re left with few places suitable for development within city limits.

There are several other in-fills proposed in Riverdale: behind Grey Mountain School, on the corner of Lewes Boulevard and Nisutlin Drive, and along Nisutlin Drive between Selkirk Street and Blanchard Road.

There are also eight in-fills proposed for Porter Creek and one each for Crestview, Hillcrest and the downtown.

Even without these developments, there should be plenty of greenery left in Whitehorse, said Gau. The city’s draft official community plan has five parks, including an expanded Chadburn Park near Riverdale.

The idea to revive Riverdale’s controversial in-fill didn’t come from city planners, said Gau. It came from residents who touted the idea at one of the city’s public meetings, held over the past year to review the official community plan. But he concedes the idea was “disputed” by others.

It will be up to city councillors to decide whether to proceed with the Riverdale in-fill. “Now we’re getting down to the hard decisions,” said Gau.

Residents have until April 1 to submit comments to the city about the draft plan.

Contact John Thompson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read