City ‘playing games,’ says greenspace advocate

 flurry of miscommunication at city hall this week may land Whitehorse and a local greenspace advocate in Yukon Supreme Court.

 flurry of miscommunication at city hall this week may land Whitehorse and a local greenspace advocate in Yukon Supreme Court.

Their debate is over the wording of two proposed bylaws.

It began in November when Carole Bookless, president of Porter Creek Community Association, launched a petition calling for extra greenspace protection.

That petition proposed two things.

First, that all subdivisions have a greenspace plan, approved through area plebiscite, amended into the Official Community Plan.

Second, that any area designated park, greenspace, park reserve or held under environmental protection in the Official Community Plan keep that designation unless changed through a public vote.

By February, she had collected more than the 2,000 signatures needed to force the city to draft the bylaws.

But the city’s version of those bylaws don’t meet the intent of the petition, said Bookless.

And that puts the city in breach of the Municipal Act, she said.

So Bookless plans to file a motion in Yukon Supreme Court on charges of violating the act.

The lawsuit will be dropped if the bylaws are sent to the rewrite desk, she said.

“The city is playing games; I know the city understands the intent of our bylaw,” said Bookless. “I hope it’s not purposeful, but I think it might be.”

Bookless was given the bait and switch.

She was shown draft bylaws on March 8 that met her requirements.

“It was clear the city was on the right track,” she said

But two weeks later, she was called to view the final drafts.

“I expected it to be a refinement of what was shown on March 8, but the new draft was a bylaw that legislates the city to do exactly opposite of what we requested in the referendum.”

The city’s draft bylaws set guidelines for developing in greenspace.

But greenspace should not be developed, except under extreme circumstances, said Bookless.

And the first step in any development should be public consultation.

“Rather than wait until it’s a big controversy — as the first step, go in and consult with residents in the area and ask, ‘What is important?’ ‘What is it that we should save?’ and mark those areas as non-touchable,” said Bookless.

“So the greenspace is not defined by what’s left over after we put houses in. It should be defined by where trails, lakes, ponds and the important features people like to go to are.

“Look at them now and then there won’t be all the problems that we’ve had in the past.”

“We are asking for protection of greenbelts to the same extent as the Chadburn Lake reserve and the Gray Mountain area,” Porter Creek resident Trena Irving told council.

“Then residents who are buying real estate and counting on future enjoyment of greenbelts surrounding them can be sure that these designations won’t change.”

But some say the bylaws will “roadblock” development in the city.

“The need to develop lots in Whitehorse is critical,” said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce chair Ed Sager. “These bylaws would add another layer of bureaucracy to an already stringent and time-consuming process.”

Sager proposed amending the bylaws to only affect developments of more than 150 lots on Crown land.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure these are perfect,” said Graham, noting the draft bylaws can be tweaked at any stage.

Now, city reps, council, Bookless and other stakeholders like realtors and Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce members will be involved in the possible bylaw rewrites.

“We will consult with everyone,” said Graham. “This is going to have some long-term impacts so it’s really important that it’s done right.”

Meanwhile, Bookless is Supreme Court-bound with papers in hand.