City pushes zoning bylaw overhaul

Bigger buildings, denser neighbourhoods and chickens in the backyard are just some of the many bylaw changes that city planners proposed Tuesday night.

Bigger buildings, denser neighbourhoods and chickens in the backyard are just some of the many bylaw changes that city planners proposed Tuesday night.

The amendments presented to council are part of the $20,000 zoning bylaw rewrite, which has been a year in the making.

In addition to the hundreds of large and small changes to the bylaw, the planning department is also proposing changes to the Building and Plumbing Bylaw and the Animal Control Bylaw.

Doing all three makes sense, said Mike Gau, the city’s manager of planning and development services.

“These are really important bylaws for implementing our Official Community Plan, and in particular our upcoming Whistle Bend development,” he said. “The vision for that neighbourhood was to be a very sustainable and green and denser development, and these three bylaws really come together to put the (regulations) in place to achieve that.”

Given that the Yukon government plans to hold a lot lottery for Whistle Bend this fall, the rewrite is timely.

But it’s not just focused on the new subdivision. The bylaw changes will affect the entire city.

A lot of the changes relate to housing, said city planner, Mike Ellis.

Planners are proposing relaxing building height restrictions in some areas of the city to allow for buildings of up to 25 metres. The current height restriction is 20 metres.

“There will be changes to all of our existing neighbourhoods that might make it possible to have more development,” said Ellis. “There’s a huge possibility for having more suites, garden suites or duplexes where there’s a single-family house.”

That densification includes the Old Town neighbourhood, which has been a contentious issue for residents.

“That’s been the number one consulted topic part of this zoning bylaw and there are a lot of changes proposed for that zone,” said Ellis. “We’re definitely trying to strike the middle ground.”

Multiple-family buildings would be allowed in Old Town, but only to a maximum of four units per lot. Garden suites and laneway housing would also be allowed.

“The OCP has a vision for the density for that area. Following that discussion that’s what we came up with,” said Ellis. “(We’re) trying to encourage it towards more smallscale development, really in keeping with that neighbourhood.”

There are other changes to the zoning bylaw that include more accessible units for residents with mobility issues, easing restrictions on where daycares can go, and protecting more of the city’s green space.

But not all of the changes have to do with the Zoning Bylaw.

City planners are also proposing changes to the animal control bylaw that would allow people to keep chickens in their backyard. The limit will be six hens to a coop and no roosters.

It will be done through an application process, and neighbours within 10 metres of the coop will need to be notified, and will have a chance to object.

Other cities have done the same and Ellis said in places like Vancouver and Victoria, which allow backyard chickens, it hasn’t been much of an issue.

The other bylaw that is being amended is the Building and Plumbing Bylaw.

In 2009 the city adopted some of the strongest building codes in the country in terms of energy efficiency, said Shannon Clohosey, the city’s sustainability projects manager.

“We just want to keep leading the charge in terms of sustainability and energy use in the city of Whitehorse,” she said. “With this bylaw, we’re proposing a few changes to make even greater strides in that area.”

That includes requirements for more efficient toilets and faucets and increasing the minimum insulation value for windows.

It also includes removing the exemptions for mobile and prefabricated homes.

It will cost a bit more to build houses to this standard, said Clohosey, but in the end it’s worth it.

“We see this proposal as an investment that homeowners can make in their homes and an investment in the building stock in the city of Whitehorse as a whole,” said Clohosey. “It’s part of a longer-term vision to help decrease energy costs for homeowners and also decrease the amount of emissions that the building stock in Whitehorse is producing.”

And with most new buildings moving towards electric baseboard heating and the territory precariously short on electricity, energy efficiency is vital for long-term sustainability, added Gau.

All three bylaws will get a first reading by city council next week.

There will be an open house for the Zoning Bylaw at the Mount McIntyre Centre on June 7 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. with a public hearing on June 25.

If all goes smoothly, all three bylaws could be adopted by the beginning of July.

Contact Josh Kerr at