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City to examine Takhini North

Takhini North residents and city officials remain at loggerheads about how much public money should be spent replacing private infrastructure.

Takhini North residents and city officials remain at loggerheads about how much public money should be spent replacing private infrastructure.

A meeting Friday failed to resolve the conflict.

Residents assert politicians refuse to consider legal inconsistencies that have caused them harm.

The city is not protecting homeowners and there have been dubious dealings between the city and private land developers/lawyers, they said, brandishing a sheath of supporting documents.

City politicians and managers maintain Whitehorse cannot spend public money on private property.

The situation is outside existing city bylaws, say managers.

The problem stems from the sale of the Takhini North subdivision in 1999.

That’s when Public Works Canada sold it to Whitehorse lawyers Murray Leitch, Terrance Boylan and Tim Preston for $2 million.

The land was sold “as is,” meaning the decrepit infrastructure, which includes a series-type water system, wasn’t repaired before the lawyers took ownership.

It still wasn’t fixed when the lawyers started reselling the properties a year later.

About a year ago, the city told residents it could cost up to $24,000 per household to replace the infrastructure.

It has since scaled back the cost to $10,000.

It has offered to amortize the cost over 15 years through a local improvement fee.

A vote on the proposal will be held in February.

But residents have outstanding questions.

For example: how were 82 residential lots subdivided without being subjected to city processes?

And, why did the city refuse to put legal notifications on the properties — covenants — after Ottawa asked it to?

And why did the city negotiate with Leitch and company about how future homeowners would be notified?

As well, residents want to know why the city agrees an easement agreement — normally used by utilities — met notification requirements.

They’re puzzled that 82 land deals, vetted by lawyers, missed this.

And that’s why they booked Friday’s meeting with council, said Mark O’Brien, president of the Takhini North Community Association.

“We feel the city doesn’t feel it has any culpability,” he said. “I know our duty of care was to hire a lawyer, and we did. None of them caught it.

“We don’t expect the city to pay for everything. That’s why we’ve come here today, to try to avoid a courtroom.”

Council refused to review its information package at the meeting.

“I don’t even want to go through the documents,” said councillor Doug Graham.

“I’m certainly not going to sit here and negotiate with you.”

Council doesn’t agree with residents, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We represent all taxpayers, and they don’t want us spending money on your private property.”

Council doesn’t make deals, it gives direction to its managers, she added.

“It’s not council’s role to negotiate.”

Council must represent citizens and act on their behalf, said Takhini North resident Tanis Davey.

By refusing to review the documents, it didn’t do that, said Davey.

Residents may pay the $10,000 local improvement charge and the added costs of fixing their basements, but they’ll probably come after the city when the work is done, said resident Mark Collens.

The city allowed developers to subvert its subdivision law, he added.

“I have financial damages because the city did not do what it was supposed to have done in 1999,” said Collens.

According to the residents’ documents, then-planning manager, Dennis Shewfelt, sent out a memorandum listing concerns about the planned sale of Takhini North on August 3, 1995.

Shewfelt’s memo suggested the city put a caveat, a legal notice that indicates there is an interest in the property, on Takhini land titles.

At the time, there was no mention of 82 residential lots. Shewfelt discussed seven large land parcels.

The city could not allow them to be subdivided until the plumbing work was done, said city CAO Bryce Walt in a subsequent letter to Public Works Canada’s regional director, H.E. Charters.

“The area is currently unserviced in the centre of what are the required city standards,” wrote Walt on August 15, 1995.

“As such, the dwelling units cannot be subdivided from the present property to allow for the sale of individual units.”

That statement was repeated in October 1995 by acting city CAO Pat Burke to Lois Doig, the Public Works’ Canada official handling the sale of Takhini North.

“No future subdivision or redevelopment can be permitted without the required planning and infrastructure upgrading being undertaken.”

Fast forward to 1998, and correspondence between Doig and then-city manager Bill Newell.

Doig wanted caveats on the seven parcels they were selling, restricting individual lot sales until improvements were done.

Newell refused.

The land was tendered in December 1998, sold as-is in April 1999.

A series of letters between April and December of that year between then-city director of municipal services Mitch Moroziuk and Leitch discussed how property owners should be notified.

On December 30, 1999, using legal letterhead of the firm used by the city, Leitch confirmed an easement agreement had been given by the numbered company that owned Takhini North — owned by he and his partners — to another number company they owned.

That easement appears on every Takhini North land title.

The easement did not outline the state of the infrastructure, information included in the tender package given to prospective purchasers by Public Works Canada a year earlier.

The city will examine the matter, said Shewfelt, the city manager, adding residents had raised some doubt in his mind.

The city was under the impression that the 82 individual land titles had been registered with the Yukon land titles office since 1968, but will take another look, he said.

“I don’t have the answer,” said Shewfelt.

He’s not sure why both the city and Ottawa believed the land was in seven individual parcels that needed to be subdivided, he said.

He also isn’t sure why Newell refused to have city caveats put on title, or why Moroziuk would have eight months of discussions with Leitch about how prospective homebuyers should be notified about what’s under their house.

While the firm that Leitch worked at in 1999 – Preston, Willis and Lackowicz – did do work for the city, there is no evidence in city billing records the firm did any work on Takhini North, added Shewfelt.