On one hand, a drive-thru restaurant at 107 Range Road could be a benefit for the travelling public and many who work or live close by looking to grab a quick bite to eat.
On the other hand, there’s the potential for more greenhouse gas emissions that come with vehicles idling as they wait for their food orders inside cars and trucks.
Those were among the many arguments that came forward to Whitehorse city council at its March 22 meeting.
A public hearing was held on the proposed rezoning of the Range Road property. The property is already zoned as Highway Commercial, which allows for restaurants, but developers are seeking the zoning change to permit a drive-thru component as well.
Developers are looking at a Dairy Queen restaurant for the site.
City staff told council that 21 written submissions on the rezoning were received with 11 of those expressing support, seven stating opposition and three expressing concerns.
There were also multiple petitions bearing more than 2,200 signatures in total supporting the change. However, Valerie Braga, the city’s director of development services, told council that some signatures were duplicates and some who signed aren’t in the Yukon. Others were so focused on the possibility of a Dairy Queen in town their comments did not directly address the zoning change, but rather voiced their hope for the DQ brand to be back in town.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, delegates must either provide written submissions or call in to speak at a public hearing.
Zoë Morrison, a community planner with Stantec who’s working with the developer on the project, highlighted the petitions of support in her phone presentation to city council, emphasizing it is only the drive-thru component that would be changed in the zoning.
She pointed to the rezoning of the Kopper King in 2017 to allow a drive-thru on the Alaska Highway (though it has never been developed), suggesting that the Range Road property is better suited to a drive-thru from a traffic point of view because it wouldn’t be directly off of the highway.
Morrison also pointed out that it was 1994 zoning regulations prohibiting drive-thrus along the highway.
“Whitehorse has changed quite a bit since then,” she said.
At that time, Copper Ridge hadn’t been developed, the Canada Games Centre wasn’t in place, and the city’s operations building hadn’t been constructed to name a few developments that have happened since the 1990s.
“It is a growing area, and having services near where people work could cut down on trips into downtown,” Morrison said.
“From a sustainability point of view, I think it’s important to spread services out throughout the community so that there are options for people near where they live and work.”
She also argued a Dairy Queen drive-thru wouldn’t likely be competing with Main Street businesses downtown. Anyone travelling the highway would likely decide before they get close to Whitehorse whether they plan to come downtown and it’s unlikely the presence of a fast-food drive-thru along the highway corridor would impact that.
Another delegate; however, argued against the rezoning.
Keith Lay’s written submission was read into the record by assistant city clerk Norma Felker.
Throughout his submission, Lay highlighted a long list of city plans and statements, arguing that ultimately the city should not approve any drive-thru in the interest of sustainability and climate change.
The city’s continued work on an updated Official Community Plan, along with its sustainability plan, transportation demand plan and the 2019 declaration of a climate change emergency were all cited in Lay’s arguments.
“Since its declaration of a climate change emergency, city council has no option but to deny additional drive-thru establishments in any part of our city,” he wrote. “Denying this zoning amendment will not result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but city council will be taking a proactive step to prevent an increase of emissions.”
Other submissions highlighted both support and opposition to the proposal for a variety of reasons such as keeping traffic out of the downtown (support), keeping the downtown vibrant (opposition) and more with some also using a bit of humour to focus on the possibility of a Dairy Queen rather than the rezoning issue.
“My life has been a hollow and empty shell since our local DQ closed,” one submission read. “Hearing that I may have access to peanut butter buster parfaits once again gives me great joy. Please do not deny me this opportunity.”
A report on the public hearing is expected to come forward to council in April ahead of the final two readings of the rezoning bylaw.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org