Hillcrest townhouses could face more challenges

A townhouse development in Hillcrest's Steelox area could face more challenges. A bylaw to restrict buildings in the area to eight metres will go for first reading next week.

A townhouse development in Hillcrest’s Steelox area could face more challenges.

A bylaw to restrict buildings in the area to eight metres will go for first reading next week. It comes at the request of the Hillcrest Community Association.

The proposal could have a big impact on an already-approved development.

Last fall, Kirn Dhillon applied to have the zoning for his properties on Hillcrest Drive changed. He wants to tear down the aging Steelox buildings and build 16 townhouses. The 10-metre tall rental properties would be heated by solar panels.

Residents were concerned about increased traffic in the neighbourhood. They didn’t want buildings to block the sunlight. And townhouses would change the character of the area. Most buildings in the Steelox area are five metres tall.

In October, city council approved a zoning bylaw that would allow triplexes to be built on the site. This would allow for 12 units, not the originally proposed 16. This compromise would reduce the amount of traffic produced, and shadows cast, by the new buildings.

But the bylaw did not restrict the townhouses’s height. Current zoning allows for 10-metre tall buildings. Two buildings in the area are already taller than eight metres.

“There was no indication at all that they were going to pursue this,” said Dhillon, who heard about the bylaw the day before he left for vacation. No one has contacted him directly with concerns about the height, he said.

Also in October, city council granted $20,000 to develop a neighbourhood plan for Hillcrest. Meetings will begin in April and May, and zoning and height will be discussed. A final plan should be ready by December.

But some residents don’t want any building done before a neighbourhood plan is made. They’re asking the city to ban the construction of buildings taller than eight metres until the planning process is done.

City planner Kinden Kosick told council on Tuesday that he hasn’t seen that kind of restriction in the seven years he’s worked in Whitehorse.

Such bans cannot apply to building projects that are underway. Dhillon hasn’t started construction yet because the building design needs to be finalized. He still needs to apply for his building permit.

But he’s spent thousands of dollars doing the preliminary work, and many hours at city council. If this bylaw passes, the solar heating aspect of the project will have to be changed, he said.

City council could always change the bylaw at first reading to exempt Dhillon’s properties from the new height restrictions. This leaves the future of Dhillon’s plan in council’s hands.

“I hope they back up the previous decision that the previous council made,” he said Tuesday.

“All these councillors ran on strong platforms that want to address our housing problem in Whitehorse. It sends the wrong message to any developer in Whitehorse that, if you get something approved and you’re ready to go ahead and build based on a zoning that was approved previously, council at its own whim could retroactively change that,” he said.

“So it throws everybody’s plans in limbo. It’s totally the wrong message to send if the town wishes to address their housing shortage.”

Even though it hasn’t reached first reading yet, councillors still had plenty to say about the bylaw Monday night.

“Somehow it doesn’t seem fair to do this,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale. But there was so much time spent discussing the density that height concerns were forgotten, he said. Council should remember that residents do seem to want this height restriction, he said.

Coun. John Striecker wondered what new information has come forward since the fall to have council reconsider the previous decision. And this decision could influence future development, he said.

If the bylaw passes first reading next week, there will be a public hearing on April 22. The earliest the bylaw could be passed is May 13.

Mayor Dan Curtis was away and unable to attend Monday’s meeting.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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