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Building homes, and angry neighbours

Razing neighbourhood spruce trees to build more homes in Riverdale is going to turn the area into an "urban slum," council heard during a marathon council meeting on Monday.

Razing neighbourhood spruce trees to build more homes in Riverdale is going to turn the area into an “urban slum,” council heard during a marathon council meeting on Monday.

It was a hearing about the 2010 Official Community Plan. And during it, politicians faced about 70 angry residents, who, for more than two hours, listed reasons why more homes shouldn’t be built in a popular greenbelt at the corner of Boswell and Firth.

The opposition was not unexpected.

Residents have fiercely protested the idea ever since receiving letters in the mail this winter alerting them to the proposed development. Last month, a petition was struck in the hopes of holding a referendum on the issue. But it was abandoned after residents were told by city officials that it wasn’t legal to hold a vote on it.

It’s not the first time planners have pushed to build in the Boswell-Firth neighbourhood. In 2005, councillors considered the idea, but let it drop in the face of intense public criticism. This time, however, the city doesn’t have the luxury of ample housing to fall back on.

Infill development is necessary for solving the city’s immediate housing crunch and to better make use of existing city infrastructure, say planners.

But residents prefer to see it as an attack on their way of life.

People don’t buy homes next to the greenbelt so they can have new neighbours unexpectedly crammed in next to them, said one resident, saying it will result in a “slum.”

The city specifically set aside the area years ago as protected greenbelt and it should remain that way, said several residents.

Others were concerned the infill would lower the value of homes that front the parkland.

Residents presented no alternative locations for development.

“I’m not a planner, I don’t know,” said one resident, and the phrase was echoed by several others.

However, some pointed to Old Town and Sima as good candidates for infill, while another resident squarely pointed the finger at the city for not having the Whistle Bend subdivision ready sooner.

Safety concerns were also cited.

More Riverdale homes could result in residents inhaling more toxic wood smoke in the winter, said the Yukon’s former medical officer of health, Tony de la Mare.

“I used to advise medical patients with asthma the sooner they get out of Riverdale, the better,” he said.

“I’d hate to think we’ll go back to that.”

Others warned that nearby water wells could be contaminated if more homes are built.

“My concern is that the city’s groundwater supply is all located in Riverdale,” said a professional hydrologist who lives on Boswell Road.

“Groundwater can be very susceptible to contaminants, such as pesticides, fuel spills and leaky infrastructure.”

We don’t want another Walkerton on our hands, said another hydrologist who lives near the proposed infill site.

Only one person favoured the infill.

Environmentalist John Streicker spoke the words few people wanted to hear.

“In the coming decades, we’re going to have to shift our energy economy and one piece of that is to densify the city while keeping our greenspaces as well,” he said.

We’ll have no choice but to accept that change.

Streicker cited growth rates of 25 to 50 per cent in the next 20 years. The city won’t be able to build out indefinitely, he said.

“If we push development outside (the city) then I think we should recognize there will still be a pressure on all the neighbourhoods in the city,” he said.

“I don’t want us as a community misunderstanding that if we develop further out it won’t cause problems for us in the heart of town.”

He gave a warning to councillors.

“Think about the change that is coming regardless.”

Contact Vivian Belik at