Greenspace development put to referendum

It’s official — Whitehorse residents will be heading to the polls next month. City council unanimously decided Tuesday to put one of the…

It’s official — Whitehorse residents will be heading to the polls next month.

City council unanimously decided Tuesday to put one of the two contentious greenspace bylaws to a citywide referendum.

The other bylaw, 2006-10, which states that land designated greenspace, or protected under the Official Community Plan, not lose its designation without approval through a public vote.

That second bylaw will be passed by council pending approval by the Yukon government.

The controversial first bylaw, numbered 2006-11, would require that developers draft a planning study and a greenspace map, which must be approved by area residents before building new residential developments of any size on land designated greenspace in the city’s Official Community Plan.

The referendum will be held on Thursday, June 22.

“It’s basically going to be handled the same as a municipal election, so all the same rules that go along with a municipal election will apply to the referendum,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

There will be two polling stations — one downtown, the other at the Canada Games Centre to serve the west of the city.

“The question will be, basically, ‘Are you in favour of bylaw 2006-11?’ It will be a yes or no question,” said Shewfelt.

Under that bylaw, “planning study” is defined as a document, including a greenspace map, which specifies the location and size of existing land uses, trails, parks, greenbelts and environmentally sensitive areas.

Then, the study would be submitted for plebiscite within 90 days.

If the development plan is defeated in the plebiscite, which, by law, is not binding, council can still chose to proceed with the development without further public consultation.

This call for a referendum comes after months of heated debate between councillors, greenspace advocates and developers.

In November, Carole Bookless, president of the Porter Creek Community Association, drafted a set of petition questions designed to protect greenspace in the city.

She collected more than enough signatures to force the city to draft a pair of bylaws reflecting the intent of the petition.

She wanted to make sure the bylaws govern how greenspaces are protected, not developed.

“It had nothing to do with developers or developing, it basically said even if there was no development, we wanted, really wanted a greenspace plan, so everyone knew what was greenspace and what wasn’t – right now it is very ambiguous,” she said Tuesday.

“The concept is still above their heads — but certainly what they’ve given us is a step forward from what they’ve been doing in the past.

“Now at least we’ll put it to a vote. Then, if something gets accepted that I don’t like, hey, they voted on that, and you can’t ask for much more than that.”

The city will be running an awareness campaign to explain bylaw 2006-11 to residents.

“We will essentially present the facts — this is what the bylaw says, this is what it means,” said Shewfelt.

“So, if you vote yes, this is what you’re voting yes for; if you vote no, obviously you don’t agree with that.”

More than 50 per cent of voters must vote yes to pass it.

The referendum will cost the city $13,000. It cannot be piggybacked onto the upcoming municipal election in October because the city’s laws have strict timelines on when referendums must be held.

Advance polling will be held June 15. Special ballots will be available May 31.

Whitehorse has only ever had seven referendums, the last held in 1983, when residents voted both on nuclear disarmament and the fate of the Jim Light Arena.

Planning study bylaw 2006-11 can be reviewed at www.whitehorse.ca.

‘There goes the

neighbourhood’

Takhini West residents have lost the battle against a three-storey development in their neighbourhood.

City council approved rezoning of a lot at 26 Normandy Road to allow for two, three-storey residential buildings that would house a maximum of 20 units.

 “There goes the neighbourhood,” one resident told council.

One of the project’s developers, Wayne Cunningham of Karaway Homes, was relieved.

The development will increase traffic and noise, take away privacy and block sunlight from nearby buildings, said Rick Grant, vice-president of the Takhini West Neighbourhood Association.

“We were quite willing to accept two storeys — three storeys is just too high for the neighbourhood,” he said.

“It just totally wipes out the neighbours’ views. They will lose all privacy and it totally changes the whole neighbourhood.”

In October, the lot owner originally applied to build a two-and-a-half storey, 32-unit complex.

Council defeated the application after hearing neighbourhood concerns.

Cunningham maintains the plan allows for three parking spaces per residence on the property, which means residents’ cars won’t end up blocking already crowded neighbourhood streets.

Councillors Doug Graham and Dave Stockdale voted against the zoning change that allowed the three-storey building.

“It looks nice, but it’s not in character with that particular neighbourhood,” said Stockdale.

“We didn’t buy into that area for this kind of development,” said Graham.

“I can see the people right beside that lot selling and getting out — because that’s not what they bought those lots for.”

“I had planned to live here for the rest of my life, but now I’m probably going to leave in two years,” said Grant.

“Now we’re dead, we’re stuck with what he’s gonna put in.”

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