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Ideals clash at city’s land crunch forum

‘We have a lot of sheds and shacks here (in Whitehorse) that people are spending a lot of money to rent; they’re the type of places that…

‘We have a lot of sheds and shacks here (in Whitehorse) that people are spending a lot of money to rent; they’re the type of places that people crawl to to die,” says Erica Heuer.

It’s time to tear down those old, single-family homes that are past their prime and build affordable, multifamily dwellings in Whitehorse, she told the CBC North-sponsored land crunch forum on Thursday evening.

“That’s infill — not trying to develop on more and more greenspace,” she said.

During the 90-minute forum, the public was given an opportunity to raise concerns and make suggestions to deal with the current land crunch.

However, many people, including Heuer, doubted whether the public’s concerns were being taken seriously.

“Even though we are asked for public input, it doesn’t seem to make the types of differences that the public would like it to have,” said Heuer.

“What’s the point of public consultation that dismisses the public as a vocal minority and marginalizes people that care about where they live?”

“Do you assume that because you come out and make a comment that you’re the only person we listen to?” asked city councillor Doug Graham.

“We hear from many people at public hearings and we also hear from the people that don’t want to go to the hearings because they’re afraid they’ll be ridiculed if they say something in opposition with the group.”

Graham sat on a panel at the front of the room joined by representatives of government, the private sector and First Nations.

Deputy chief Gail Anderson of the Ta’an Kwanch’an Council discussed her government’s plans for developing on its land.

“We want to draw people to our land to get a bigger tax base and get more money for our people,” she said.

Historically, the territorial government has been the only land developer, explained Eric Magnusson, assistant deputy minister of the department of Community Services.

“This is because of our small, boom/bust economy. You need large capital investment and that’s a big risk for private developers.”

However, the housing market is maturing and if private companies are now more willing to shoulder that risk then the territory would hand over the responsibility, he said.

Brad Taylor, who developed Pine Ridge, the first privately developed subdivision in the city, agreed.

“Right now we’re dealing with two separate governments,” he said.

“The issue could be much better resolved if the land was transferred to the city of Whitehorse from the territorial government.”

“There’s an assumption that we must continue to grow,” said Jennifer Regan.

“But we need to look at why we’re choosing to live here — do we really want to develop any more?”

“As a long-term resident, yes I want the city to grow,” said real estate agent Dan Lang.

“I realize we have to have guidelines, but if you don’t have economic growth then you’re going to go backwards.”

Many first-time homebuyers, and single-parent families are finding it increasingly difficult to enter the market with prices so high.

“We need affordable housing,” said Faro land developer Ian Robertson.

“Affordability means choice; it doesn’t necessarily mean social housing.”

Some of the public doubted whether there even is a land crunch.

“There’s lots of land,” said John Edzerza.

“Don’t tell me that there’s not enough land. I feel like we’re being forced to live in Copper Ridge.”

“We most definitely have a land crunch, just look at the numbers from the past few years,” said Graham.

He described the current land crunch as a “perfect storm.”

“There are some things that we can do to relieve the current shortage, and then if it takes five years to do this right, then take five years.

“But that means we’re going to have to start planning five years in advance and that’s what we’re not doing right now.”