Land process makes for poor neighbours

The Yukon government’s land disposition process is in “chaos,” according to Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff.

The Yukon government’s land disposition process is in “chaos,” according to Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff.

A pair of spot land applications near the Annie Lake Road have recently been approved over objections from local residents, First Nations and Environment officials.

Early in 2006, the lands branch moved one application for six hectares of residential property out of probable caribou habitat and onto a nearby ridge that is a popular walkway for local residents.

“Because of concerns about caribou habitat, the minister’s officials moved the proposal to the other side of the road, changed the orientation of the six-hectare lot, and they didn’t consult with neighbouring residents when they moved the parcel,” Cardiff said recently during Question Period.

“In fact, they gave the two sides — the proponents (on one side) and the residents and the hamlet council — two totally different stories about what they were doing, and that has continued to this day.”

The lands branch recently granted a second residential application on appeal, in the same lichen-rich area that caribou are known to frequent.

“It’s adjacent to the (other) application, but it’s in the same habitat, in the same area of ground that is 90 per cent covered in lichen,” Environment biologist Rob Florkiewicz said in an interview.

“The department recommended that it not be approved in that location, and (that) the proponent look for an alternate location.”

“Just because we don’t have any active radio collars in the area doesn’t mean the caribou don’t go there.”

Neither of the applications are palatable to Brett Boughen, who shares a six-hectare lot near the Wheaton River.

Boughen has been fighting the ridge application for two years.

He operates a wilderness tourism business from his home, and he wasn’t thrilled about new neighbours building on the ridge he frequents with his clients.

But Boughen could live with the idea as long as the ridge trail is respected.

However the government changed the alignment of the application lot to match the contours of the ridge, privatizing much of the area close to the ridge.

The department has made several mistakes and gone out of its way to accommodate the proponents, said Boughen, who has a thick file of documents that includes documented admissions from the lands branch that errors were made.

“The immediate neighbours were not notified about the relocation of your application to its present location,” lands manager Bryony McIntyre told the proponents in a February letter.

“A further error seems to have occurred by subsequent inspection, in that an original offset of 30 metres was changed to 10 metres offset,” said McIntyre.

“Due to the acknowledged presence of unmapped heritage sites and within the trail vicinity plus possible aesthetic conflict between the existing recreational values and your proposed development, I returned the original 30 metres offset.”

The lands branch also discussed safety issues likely to arise between horses using the trail and the proponent’s 25 sled dogs.

“I see the potential of some public safety issues due to the presence of that many sled dogs so close to the trail,” Judy Linton, a subdivision land use planner with Community Services, advised the lands branch in 2005.

“There are definitely conflicts between horses and sled dogs, as that number of sled dogs could easily frighten a horse that is on a narrow trail on the top of a bank and cause a serious accident.”

The Mount Lorne zoning regulations require an additional 15-metre setback added to the 30-metre buffer, said Boughen.

“We want a guarantee that the dog yard will be no closer than 45 metres from the property line closest to the ridge.”

Boughen insists his beef is not with the proponents, but the process, which “has gone wrong and has had severe, negative outcomes thus far for both the applicants and the residents,” he said in a recent presentation to the lands branch.

“There is frequent reference in letters and meetings to the applicants being clients of the lands branch, and we feel that this is unfair and insulting, as we are all clients of the lands branch and the government of Yukon, and we should be treated as such,” said Boughen.

“We have initiated an investigation with the ombudsman and sought legal council.”

Lands officials have said their only recourse is to consider court action, he added.

Boughen has made repeated to requests for a meeting with Resources minister Archie Lang, to no avail.

“The minister’s officials have actually admitted to both sides that they’ve screwed this thing up,” said Cardiff.

“Now they’ve told both sides that their only recourse is to hire lawyers and duke it out in the court.”

The proponent of the ridge application, who asked not to be identified, is also dissatisfied, even though they have an agreement for sale.

“Seven years ago was our first application,” said the proponent.

“The setback went from being 10 metres from the edge of the bluff to 30 metres setback from the centre of the trail that seems to be so important.

“We’re unhappy that (the lands branch) made the decision to pull us back from that trail.”

The complaints of future neighbours are absolutely ‘not in my backyard,’ said the proponent.

“We’re in the limits of the Mount Lorne development plan.”

Under current Mount Lorne zoning regulations, the disputed area has been set aside for residential development.

New zoning regulations that have been expected for years will designate much of the area as “hinterland,” and evaluate concerns about caribou habitat.

But the new regulations will take effect too late to satisfy the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, which opposed the second application that targets the lichen-rich caribou habitat.

A March 31 letter from chief Mark Wedge to lands branch director Lyle Henderson was not included in the application’s public file that anyone can access at the lands branch offices.

But a copy of the letter obtained by The News claims that the lands branch is overturning a review committee decision without sending it to the new Yukon Environmental Assessment and Socioeconomic Board, or consulting with the Carcross/Tagish.

“It is with great disappointment and deep concern that this is how we are starting this government-to-government relationship,” said Wedge.

“(Carcross/Tagish) is awaiting your response and will be seeking legal advice on this matter.”