Dawson to rework heritage bylaws

The new Dawson City hospital's 15-foot breach of the town's building-height restriction has town council rethinking how it handles heritage.

The new Dawson City hospital’s 15-foot breach of the town’s building-height restriction has town council rethinking how it handles heritage.

“This whole thing is something that I think needs fixing,” said Councillor Stephen Johnson in an interview this week.

“The process in general needs to be reviewed because it’s fairly obvious that we missed something here.”

A mechanical room on top of the hospital, which covers a quarter of the rooftop, will stand nearly 50 feet above ground.

This breach of the building bylaw, which restricts height to 35 feet, was caused because of a series of misunderstandings.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation was told about the height restrictions, Dawson’s heritage advisory committee chair Trina Buhler said last week.

They also received a copy of the town’s bylaw and guidelines.

The hospital corporation and its architects spent more than a year meeting with the heritage advisory committee, going over details such as the design, materials and orientation of the building.

According to project manager Mike Cowper, the committee never raised any concerns about the building height during this time.

Usually, exceeding a height restriction would have to be approved by mayor and council.

However, the town’s development officer signed off on the project without bringing the issue before council.

After the municipal elections in October, 2009 – which saw Peter Jenkins defeat incumbent mayor John Steins – a number of town employees left their jobs. The development officer was one of them.

This change in personnel may have been responsible for the mistake.

The breach wasn’t brought before council until construction of the new hospital had already begun.

Mayor and council took full responsibility for the mix-up, said Johnson.

But it was never an option to halt construction of the hospital.

“It was already being constructed, the bowling ball had left the person’s hand and was going down the damn alley. How the hell do you stop that?” he said.

“Now, mind you, if they’d put the hospital in a different location, like a whole stack of people wanted – like I wanted – it might have been a different story.”

The hospital is located beside the Old Territorial Administration Building, which now serves as the town’s museum.

It’s been designated a National Historic Site of Canada and is a beloved centerpiece of the historic district.

The previous mayor and council approved the location, despite petitions and complaints.

“The problem is that the word hospital had been on a map for the past three billion years and therefore it was etched in stone and it was going to go there regardless,” said Johnson. “And that’s what the government said: ‘If it doesn’t go there, it ain’t going anywhere,’ which was stupid.”

Preserving the town’s historic look is important for Dawson and not all that difficult, said Johnson.

Still, some developers, especially Yukon government developers, seem to have trouble meeting the requirements.

Yukon Housing took about six months worth of meetings with the heritage advisory committee to get approval for new apartments on the south side of town.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation consulted with the committee for a year and still didn’t get the height right.

“The wastewater treatment plant only took two weeks because I did it,” said Johnson, who also works for Corix, the contractor in charge of building the new plant.

“I used to be on the planning board so I knew what I needed and it all made so much sense. It was simple.”

Johnson and the rest of the council are planning to amend the city’s heritage bylaws to make them easier to use and interpret.

They also plan to rewrite the town’s official community plan.

“We’re heading down that road and we want to get those new sets of bylaws in place before the new council is elected in October,” said Johnson.

“I think there’s been some good improvements. We need to make more, but we’re working on it.”

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