Feeling lucky? Lot lottery a real gamble

‘Buyer Beware,” states a small laser-printed sign up near Lot 8. And a review of government material suggests a slew of hidden charges…

‘Buyer Beware,” states a small laser-printed sign up near Lot 8.

And a review of government material suggests a slew of hidden charges and barely advertised problems await buyers interested in one of the 110 country residential lots in the new Whitehorse Copper subdivision.

The first lots of the Whitehorse Copper subdivision are already on the market. And more lots will be released this fall.

Sandwiched between Mt. Sima Road and the radon gas-prone Wolf Creek subdivision, the new country residential subdivision is located across from McRae between the Alaska Highway and the old Copper Haul Road.

The lots cost $78,408 to $129,961.

Interested residents have until noon Wednesday to place a $300 deposit and $26.50 entry fee for the lottery.

“If you walk along the bank there you can see it — it’s an old dump,” said community infrastructure branch assistant director Pat Molloy.

“There will be a little bit of impact on a small corner of Lot 1, so we’re trying to make sure people are aware of that if they choose Lot 1,” he said.

A map of “heritage features” created by Hammerstone Archeological Consulting tells a slightly different story.

Lot 1 is speckled with debris from a Second World War military dump.

Some of the lots encircling Drumlin Crescent are similarly affected.

“Oh everyone knows about that,” said assistant manager of land client services John Cole.

“The whole of Granger was like that. That’s just the nature of Whitehorse, really,” he said.

“In the McCrae West area (lots 1-19) there may be reminants (sic) of the old WWII Army Subdivision, Highway Camp and Relay Station,” the lands branch website states.

“The area may include, but is not limited to old valves, wooden valve boxes, old shallow wooden crib cellars, tin cans, scrap wood and metal and other miscellaneous items on individual lots.

“Therefore the lots are ‘as is and buyer beware.’”

The army dump is not mentioned in the lottery information package.

Neither is the fact that an unused White Pass spur rail line runs through the subdivision. The railway retains the right of way, allowing it to proceed with the line whenever it wants.

The makeshift warning signs that were stapled up anonymously to utility poles in the excavated subdivision tell would-be purchasers to “look for pits, buried pipes, barrels, canisters, cans and other debris.”

The government didn’t keep its cleanup promise, the sign reads.

The Environment department is responsible for cleaning the site, said Molloy.

The sign-poster is likely one of the disgruntled neighbours who vocally opposed the Whitehorse Copper subdivision in recent years at public meetings and city council meetings, said communications officer Doug Caldwell.

“It was like NIMBYs on steroids,” he said.

“There was a fairly ardent group of people that just about made it clear that this development wasn’t going to go ahead,” said Caldwell.

During public consultations that began in 2003, neighbours cited increases in traffic, decreases in water quality and availability, and loss of wilderness as reasons for their opposition.

That type of reaction is common with any development project, said Molloy.

The reasons cited for resident opposition weren’t “supportable,” he added.

As well as possible army relics surfacing on their land, potential new homeowners need to be aware of immediate additional costs they’ll have to cover if they buy one of the lots.

A new homeowner in Whitehorse Copper may face immediate additional costs that could easily surpass $25,000.

Buyers must not only pay a one-time $1,250 development cost charge to the city upon purchase; they’re also expected to provide their own septic field, electric and phone-line connections and water source.

There will be no connections to the city’s water grid.

Homeowners are expected to drill private on-site wells or arrange for bulk water delivery.

A survey of five drill points for determining well-water potential turned up high levels of uranium in the western portion of the subdivision.

The geological strata under seven of the 110 lots is Whitehorse batholith granodiorite.

The water found in two test wells drilled through that matrix contained total uranium above the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines maximum of 0.02 mg/L.

“Water from these wells should not be consumed or used for cooking without prior treatment for uranium removal,” the report said.

A $1,000 faucet filtration system can make the water safe for drinking and cooking, the report said.

In other locations, the wells turned up safe water, but it might not taste or look that great.

High levels of bicarbonates, iron and manganese means scaling and staining. And it might have a strange taste.

The cost of a well, based on information in the lands branch’s survey of well potential in the area is $15,000 to $20,000. These figures refer to typical 2006 rates charged by local contractors.

The lottery has been criticized for inflating the prices for these low-infrastructure and rock-ridden lots.

Community Services asked for $7.973 million in the 2006-2007 budget for the 110 country residential and 25 service industrial lots, which is a per-lot average of $60,000.

The average asking price for the 110 country residential Whitehorse Copper lots is $93,377.

“Technically, the lands act allows the government two options to price country residential class of land,” said Malloy.

The first option is to price the lots strictly according to the cost the Yukon government put into building power and road access, surveying, and highway renovations.

“We took a look at it and said, ‘Oh, if we price them that way, we could really devalue a lot of the property that’s out there,’” said Malloy.

However, a 2003 environmental screening report commissioned by the Yukon government noted that the lots could be priced at cost with little detriment to the marketplace.

“Considering the low lot density and the significant level of infrastructure required for the development, it is reasonable to expect that the final development costs and the corresponding lot prices in the subdivision will have no negative impact on current property values elsewhere,” the report said

Instead, the lands branch produced a price matrix and used a “blended” price model that incorporated a number of market-value estimates and passed the pricing recommendation off for cabinet approval.

If the average development cost of $60,000 is accurate, the average lot price of $93,377 represents a 55 per cent markup.