City proceeds with controversial infill sites

The city is turning a deaf ear to citizens opposed to potential infill sites in Riverdale, Porter Creek and McIntyre Creek.

The city is turning a deaf ear to citizens opposed to potential infill sites in Riverdale, Porter Creek and McIntyre Creek.

About 20 people attended a council meeting Monday to hear politicians discuss final changes to the 2010 Official Community Plan, Whitehorse’s master planning document.

Since the city released its second draft of the plan this spring, infill housing has surfaced as one of the most contentious issues in the document.

Of 17 proposed infill sites, three have received considerable opposition from residents: the Porter Creek D area in McIntyre Creek, greenbelt land between Boswell and Firth in Riverdale and open land near the Guild Hall in Porter Creek.

Rather than scrap the infill plans for those areas, planners have singled them out as “priority” areas to be examined for future development.

The three infill developments will yield the most number of lots and should be studied first because of “strong public interest,” they said.

Facing an overwhelming housing shortage, the city must develop existing communities rather than building on the fringes of the city, said senior planner Mike Ellis.

Doing so would make better use of existing services, like sewers, roads and garbage collection.

But the announcement frustrated residents who have repeatedly called on the city to quash plans to infill the three neighbourhoods.

Popular recreation space in Riverdale will disappear and the city’s water supply could be contaminated if infill goes ahead, say residents. Riverdale is home to five of the city’s wellheads, one of which lies beneath the proposed infill site.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned infill in McIntyre Creek will choke off a critical wildlife corridor. And residents in Porter Creek are concerned building new houses in their neighbourhood will require bedrock blasting which could damage their homes.

Most of the people who spoke at Monday’s council meeting opposed the McIntyre Creek development.

The city won’t develop in an area that would negatively impact wildlife, said Coun. Ranj Pillai.

“We want people to understand the values of the organization are similar to those that people have out there.”

But some weren’t convinced.

“We’ve met countless times with city planners and YTG and the community has said, ‘No, we don’t want (development in McIntyre Creek),’” said Friends of McIntyre Creek member Gerry Steers.

Planners say they’ve listened to our concerns and then they come back with plans that still include development in the creek, she said.

“We feel like we’re spitting into the wind.”

“Future community development shall be directed away from lands that have … critical wildlife habitat,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale, citing a clause in the most recent draft of the Official Community Plan.

“We say we don’t want to disturb nature and then we want to throw in an apartment block there,” said Stockdale, referring to McIntyre Creek. “It’s contradictory.”

The city studied environmentally sensitive areas in 2005 and used the data to create an environmental network plan, said planning manager Mike Gau.

“We’re protecting high-wildlife areas,” he said.

Why develop infill sites when you are in the process of building Whistle Bend, a neighbourhood that will eventually house up to 7,800 people when the first two phases are completed in 2012, said Yukon Conservation director Karen Baltgailis.

“Listing Porter Creek D as a priority infill site in the Official Community Plan will send out the message to developers that the area is open for business,” she said.

The city should do more studies before targeting McIntyre Creek, the Boswell and Firth area and Sleeping Giant Hill near McLean Lake for more houses, she added.

City officials insist more studies aren’t needed.

“Council needs to decide upon land-use designations during the review process,” read a city planning report.

Additional changes to the 2010 Official Community Plan include working with the Yukon government to regulate ATV use in the city, developing a wellhead-protection management plan for the city’s water supply and creating more housing options by increasing land supply.

Next Monday, the 2010 Official Community Plan will be given second reading at council.

If the bylaw passes second reading, the plan will be reviewed by Community Services Minister Archie Lang and will go back to council in September or October for a final vote.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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