Greenspace bylaw referendum bound?

Whitehorse residents will probably be heading to the polls this summer over a contentious greenspace bylaw, which has divided councillors, greenspace…

Whitehorse residents will probably be heading to the polls this summer over a contentious greenspace bylaw, which has divided councillors, greenspace advocates and developers.

There are actually two new bylaws up for discussion.

The first, a bylaw to ensure city greenspace keeps its designation unless changed through a public vote, is expected to pass council with ease.

The second is another story.

It requires that a planning study be put to a public vote before a developer can break ground on residential lots in the city.

This bylaw could send Whitehorse residents to the polls on June 22.

The city drafted the bylaws in response to a petition launched by the Porter Creek Community Association. It asked the city to ensure it has public support before developing greenspace or protected areas.

The first bylaw, numbered 2006-10, says areas designated greenspace, park, park reserve or held under environmental protection in the Official Community Plan must keep that designation unless changed through a public vote.

“Everybody wants greenspace,” said city administrative services director Robert Fendrick, who predicts the first bylaw will pass through council without going to a referendum.

“I get a sense from council that they’re fully prepared to go ahead with that particular bylaw; I know I am,” said mayor Ernie Bourassa Friday.

“I think it’s important that, if we are to change a designation in the OCP from land that was zoned for park or greenbelt that the whole community gets the chance to make their views known.

“For example, if someone was to change the Grey Mountain park area to allow for residential development, I think that’s a big enough question for the whole city to decide.”

It’s the second bylaw, numbered 2006-11, that’s tricky.

It requires a developer to draft a planning study and map before breaking ground on any new residential development of more than 30 lots in an area already zoned greenbelt, park or park or park reserve in the city’s Official Community Plan.

The study would specify the location and size of trails, parks, greenbelts and environmental protection land in the area.

Then the plan and map must be put to public vote, though the results will not be binding.

If defeated, politicians can still choose to proceed with the development without further public consultation.

“My guess is that a majority of council would vote to bring that one forward for a referendum and let the community decide,” said Bourassa, of the second bylaw.

“I think there were a lot of people who signed that petition who didn’t realize what they were voting for.”

The bylaws dictating how greenspace is preserved and developed in the city are still unacceptable, according Carole Bookless, president of the Porter Creek Community Association.

The city has not amended the bylaws since the association’s last appearance before council. That was a month ago.

“I told them that this is no good; this is crazy,” said Bookless on Thursday.

Bookless has two main beefs with the existing bylaw draft.

First, it is the developer who is obligated to complete the planning study, rather than the city.

And, second, the greenspace protection only kicks in when somebody announces they want to build in a greenbelt.

They are bylaws governing how greenspaces are developed, not protected, said Bookless.

“The city told me a lot of my concerns would be addressed after the public consultation, but what good is having the consultation if you’re going to change it anyway?” she said.

There is still time to amend the bylaws, said Fendrick.

On May 23, both bylaws and their proposed changes will come before council.

The mayor and councillors will examine each individually and decide whether they will pass the laws themselves, or send one or both to a citywide referendum.

“We want to tell people that we’re going to protect greenspace as designated in the OCP,” said Bourassa.

“But we also don’t want to hold up development or allow a not-in-my-backyard attitude to hold up development in areas already designated for development — and that’s the fear I have with that bylaw.”

The first bylaw, 2006-10, is slated come before council for a public hearing on Monday, May 8th at 7:30 p.m.

The second bylaw, 2006-11, does not require a public hearing because it doesn’t require an Official Community Plan amendment.

Then, on May 23, council will decide whether Whitehorse will go to the polls this summer, or not.