A townhouse development in the Steelox area of Hillcrest remains in limbo.
On Monday night, Whitehorse city council voted to delay bringing forward a bylaw that would restrict buildings in the Steelox area to eight metres. The bylaw will have first reading in two weeks.
The Hillcrest Community Association wants the restriction. Right now, most of the buildings in the area are five metres tall, but they are allowed to be as tall as 10.
There have already been some changes approved for the neighbourhood. Last fall, Kirn Dhillon applied to change the zoning of his property so he could tear down the Steelox buildings and replace them with 16 rental units. The units would be heated by solar panels. But area residents were concerned about increased traffic, noise and restricted sunlight.
In October, council approved an amendment to allow 12 units to be built at the property. It also allotted $30,000 for a neighbourhood plan to be made for Hillcrest.
Dhillon hasn’t begun to build yet. Last week, city administration gave council the option of excluding his properties from the height restriction.
But neighbourhood residents want all buildings limited to eight metres.
“For me personally, these buildings would face right into my backyard,” Jim Gilpin, a Steelox owner, told council. The tall buildings would create long shadows, and he’s concerned he’ll lose some privacy. His neighbours agree with the restriction.
“You can’t see them, but there’s 33 of them on either side of me, standing behind me in support of this,” he told council.
Gilpin organized a petition for the height restriction, he said. He’s contacted 39 of the 40 Steelox owners. Thirty-four support the restriction, he said. Four oppose it. Two owners are undecided, or unable to be contacted, he said.
Most of the survey was done during the first weekend in March, he told council.
And Dhillon didn’t find out about it until he was about to leave for his spring vacation.
“I’m a Steelox owner. I wasn’t aware of this until just recently,” he told council.
The building design hasn’t changed, said Dhillon. He always planned to build nine-metre tall buildings, not 10-metre tall ones, he said. Reducing the number of units to 12 from 16 was a compromise, he said.
He’s willing to see if his plans will work within eight metres, he said. But he hasn’t had time to do that yet. He’s concerned if council approves this restriction, the neighbours will demand more changes, he said.
“I don’t get everything I want, and they don’t get everything they want. That’s usually how negotiations work,” Dhillon told council.
Council needs to consider the entire community’s needs, he said.
“When you define community, do you define it as the city of Whitehorse as a whole that is clamouring for affordable housing, or do you define it as those Steelox owners that are on the backyard of my property?” he asked.
Coun. John Streicker proposed delaying the bylaw so Dhillon could meet with his architects to see if new designs could be made.
He doesn’t think council intended there to be a height restriction on Dhillon’s properties, he said. But everyone’s expectations need to be managed during the planning process, he said.
“I believe this is all really about a question of fairness,” said Coun. Kirk Cameron. Dhillon has tried to compromise with the neighbours, he said. He thought he had some degree of certainty about what he could build.
But the neighbours’ concerns are important, said Coun. Mike Gladish.
“We are sending a message to developers. I don’t think it’s a negative message,” he said. “Just a message saying that it’s really important to listen to the community and to make the effort to look at the design.”
Developers are watching the decision, Mayor Dan Curtis told reporters after the meeting.
“Money is very fluid. And if people don’t want to invest here, they’re going to invest somewhere else,” he said. “So we have to make it an attractive place to come and to invest and to build and to grow, or that money can go elsewhere. And if it’s not within Hillcrest, perhaps it will be within Riverdale or Porter Creek, or not. Maybe it will be in B.C. or Alberta.”
Only councillors Betty Irwin and Dave Stockdale voted against delaying the bylaw’s first reading.
It is possible to change a previous council’s decision, Irwin said. And council is obliged to hear the neighbours’ concerns. “We must not reject new information just because it is an inconvenient intrusion on the process,” she said.
Dhillon has had enough time to begin building, said Stockdale. And the buildings will completely change the neighbourhood, he cautioned.
“I think we’ve got to put this to bed,” he said.
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