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‘Diverse, liveable, and affordable:’ Whitehorse drafts an 18-year plan

It’s a document that will shape exactly how and where the City of Whitehorse grows over the next two decades and officials are looking for more feedback as it moves into the final phases towards adopting it.

On May 17, the city released the draft of its proposed next Official Community Plan, the overarching document that guides planning.

The draft document — Whitehorse 2040 — comes after years of work, with part of that effort disrupted by COVID-19, and proposes a vision for the city that could see taller buildings downtown, new areas for development and other initiatives based around the vision of Whitehorse as a “vibrant capital city.”

“The city is an inclusive, innovative, entrepreneurial, authentic, and resourceful northern community. The growing community is diverse, livable, and affordable. Whitehorse residents and visitors enjoy access to the land, some of the cleanest air in the country, and opportunities to gather for local, national, and international events,” states the vision in the draft OCP.

Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, described it as “our biggest document for land use planning and policy” at a media briefing held May 18.

He emphasized that while the OCP proposes a number of potential changes, further bylaw amendments would have to follow to address the specifics. A zoning bylaw rewrite typically follows the adoption of a new OCP to address the changes.

Mélodie Simard, the city’s manager of planning and sustainability services, highlighted a number of specifics coming out of the plan, pointing to the public input sessions that were held in the beginning stages of work to develop a new OCP.

Porter Creek D labelled as green space

One of the big changes many may notice is the move to designate the McIntyre Creek area as green space. It had previously been proposed as a potential area for development known as Porter Creek D in the current OCP.

“The public felt strongly it needed to be protected,” Simard said.

A number of residents have spoken out when development had been contemplated for the area in the past, highlighting it as an area important to wildlife, recreation and the environment.

As Simard pointed out though, the city does need to plan for potential growth and that means identifying other areas where that growth can happen rather than Porter Creek D.

Instead, she said, it’s proposed the city would look at an area on Holly Street in Porter Creek and along Whistle Bend Way rather than Porter Creek D.

Whistle Bend is anticipated to be the major area of residential growth over the next 10 to 15 years.

First Nations settlement lands are also anticipated to play a major role in the residential growth of Whitehorse over the coming decades along with the development of the former tank farm area, identified in the proposed OCP as Valleyview South.

A growth area south of Copper Ridge is also identified for future planning and feasibility studies that could create a new neighbourhood.

That work would see the city working with First Nations, which have settlement land in the area.

While the north growth area near Long Lake is also outlined as a potential future expansion area, the city would also aim to preserve it as long as possible before development.

“The north growth area will be developed after the south growth area, unless the south growth area is found to be unsuitable for residential development,” the draft document states.

Increasing density

An effort to increase density in already-existing areas is also clear. Height limits in the downtown core are proposed to increase to a maximum of 32.5 metres (around 10 or 11 stories) “where appropriate” rather than the 25-metre limit throughout much of the downtown. On Main Street, the height limit is proposed to remain at 20 metres.

Meanwhile in the Old Town area of the downtown, density could rise to up to six housing units on most properties compared to the four units permitted now.

In Marwell, a new mixed-use area close to the riverfront would allow for two housing units per lot, presenting an option for more homes there.

The draft OCP includes further plans to address granular extraction, transportation, economic growth and more.

Have your say

Residents are invited to review the 112-page document, attend an open house or online event and fill out a survey that will be used in drafting the final document that will go to council for approval.

In-person open houses are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 25 and 26 at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at NorthLight Innovation.

An online presentation is also scheduled for May 31 from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. with residents asked to fill out the online survey by June 5.

Additional stakeholder sessions are scheduled for organizations that are on the city’s OCP mailing list. Simard said any groups that would like to be added to that list can contact ocp@whitehorse.ca

The draft OCP and survey are available online.

It’s anticipated the final draft will come forward to council in August.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Stephanie Waddell

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