Hillcrest residents to vote on major improvement plan

The Hillcrest Community Association will go door-to-door to make sure people vote on improvements planned for the neighbourhood that could add more fees to their taxes.

The Hillcrest Community Association will go door-to-door to make sure people vote on improvements planned for the neighbourhood that could add more fees to their taxes.

The City of Whitehorse is planning $17 million worth of improvements to the neighbourhood over four years starting in 2018.

That includes installing new water and sewer mains, new hydrants and eliminating bleeders wherever possible to help save water. It would mean new asphalt for some roads and installing new sidewalks and multi-use paths.

Hillcrest’s roads and utilities were built in the 1950s. The improvements are important to the long-term sustainability of the neighbourhood, council heard March 20.

“Without these upgrades, failures are likely to increase and will be costly for property owners and the city,” according to a report to council. “The asphalt road surfaces have failed causing safety concerns and drainage issues.”

The city hopes the majority of that money — about $14.5 million worth — will end up coming from the federal Building Canada Fund.

Unless residents object, another $2.4 million would come from area homeowners through what’s known as a local improvement charge.

Local improvement charges have been used in Whitehorse for decades any time major work is planned.

The charge “recognizes that property owners do see a benefit when their infrastructure is upgraded so it is only fair that they should pay a portion of the cost in recognition of that benefit,” said Wayne Tuck, the city’s manager of engineering services, in an email.

The city calculates the average cost to build an urban road and then residents are made to pay a portion depending on the size of their property.

A document presented at the March 20 city council meeting shows residential property owners in Hillcrest could pay anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to more than $30,000 each.

The charge can be paid as a lump sum or in instalments over 20 years as part of their tax bill. Government and commercial properties pay more than residential ones.

Community Association president Shaunagh Stikeman said the board will not be taking a position on whether the project should proceed.

But she wants to make sure residents cast a ballot.

“Historically we are told that many residents don’t vote on local improvement projects, which is probably why local improvement projects always proceed,” Stikeman said.

“We as a community association are very committed to ensuring that the outcome of the vote reflects people’s true intentions rather than their failure to cast a ballot.”

The city’s rules say 50 per cent of people have to vote “no” in order for an improvement plan to be defeated.

Stikeman credited the city with meeting repeatedly to talk about the plans. But residents have raised concerns, she said, including the new improvement charges.

“There’s no doubt that this would cause undue financial hardship for property owners,” she said.

Other similar improvements, like work happening on Wheeler Street where the lots are smaller, have cost residents somewhere between $6,000 and $9,000 each, she said.

“Most people in Hillcrest don’t have an extra $15,000 to $25,000 sitting around for this kind of project.”

Stikeman acknowledged the city has been levying these kinds of charges for years, but said that’s not necessarily a reason for them to continue.

The charges would be “simply unaffordable” for people leaving on a fixed income, she said.

Tuck said it’s not as simple as asking the federal government for more money to pay the costs that residents don’t want to cover.

Residents benefiting from this type of work are always required to pay a share.

Stikeman said residents also have concerns about the city’s plan to remove some bleeders to save water. It’s not clear how much water that will actually save, she said.

“(Saving water) is a lofty goal. We all want to save water. However, less than half of the properties in Hillcrest would have their bleeders eliminated under the project.”

A few roads are also slated to to be realigned. Dalton Trail and Park Lane would be shifted as much as two metres to one side in some spots, she said.

“While the road currently sits at a roughly equal distance from the buildings on either side, the two-metre shift would give the appearances of the road being off-centred,” she said.

“This could also negatively impact properties on one side by reducing their front yard significantly.”

Tuck told council the roads currently have one side that is right up against the property line and are further away from the property line on the other side.

That isn’t safe or effective if city staff ever needed to work on the roads, he said.

In the end the final decision on whether to move forward with the plans will be up to Hillcrest residents. Ballots will be mailed out March 31 and need to be completed by May 9.

The association will be going door-to-door to make sure people are aware of what’s going on and to see if they have any more questions, Stikeman said.

Residents can also have their questions answered at a public hearing May 8, the day before the ballots are due.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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