After four years of work, the City of Whitehorse could have a new guide in place by the end of the year, for everything from increased building heights and possibilities for new development areas.
The proposed Official Community Plan (OCP) was presented at Whitehorse city council’s Aug. 1 meeting with Dec. 12 cited as a potential date for full adoption of the 20-year plan for the city.
This document follows an earlier draft that was released in May for public comment.
The OCP serves as a guide for overall city planning, with this edition looking ahead to 2040, though a comprehensive review is anticipated 10 years after adoption. Work on the newest OCP began in November 2018.
“An OCP is the highest level policy and planning document for a municipality and as such, is of great importance to the community,” Mélodie Simard, the city’s planning and sustainability manager, stated in a report to council. “In order to achieve the objectives and goals outlined within the OCP, polices are established to guide the city. The OCP also provides direction to other city tools and documents, such as the zoning bylaw. After the OCP is adopted by city council, work produced by city departments must align with the guidance provided by the plan.”
The proposed new plan highlights continued development for the Whistle Bend area along with development by First Nations of their settlement land, private development of the former tank farm site near Valleyview, and looking at potential future areas for growth, with one south of Copper Ridge and another near Long Lake. Height limits for mixed use buildings in the downtown core would be set at 25 metres, though up to 30 metres — about 10 stories — would be considered for buildings north of Main Street and east of Fourth Avenue. This compares to a current height limit of 25 metres through much of the downtown, or 20 metres on Main Street.
Changes to the zoning bylaw would be required before the proposals came into effect. A large-scale review of the zoning bylaw typically follows the adoption of a new OCP so the zoning bylaw reflects the updated vision for the community.
Simard outlined the work that went into creating the document including a variety of public input opportunities ranging from an online survey to in-person open houses once certain COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and a long list of background studies produced as part of the process. The studies looked at future residential demand, agriculture, commercial and industrial land, downtown development, municipal quarrying and the demographics and economics of housing demand in the city.
There’s a long list of proposed policy changes under nine different themes including equity and inclusion; heritage, arts and culture; climate action and environmental stewardship; development and growth; housing; economy; transportation and mobility; and municipal services and assets.
They range from supporting the redevelopment of aging housing stock to developing a climate change strategy among many more.
In a lengthy — more than 30 minute — council discussion following Simard’s presentation, members were quick to praise staff for the years of work, public engagement efforts and more that went into developing the plan.
“I’m really pleased that we now have the draft and the engagement and all the work that’s gone into it,” Mayor Laura Cabott said.
Along with other members of council, she highlighted sections of the plan seen as positives for the city, while also highlighting concerns.
Among the more positive mentions was the inclusion of land acknowledgement, First Nation language for place names, First Nations historical context, the focus on the housing continuum and more.
The mayor pointed to concerns around provisions for electric vehicle charging stations, noting that while the document highlights consideration for the stations in residential and commercial buildings it does not mention the possibility for city-owned buildings.
Cabott also echoed concerns expressed by Coun. Ted Laking over population projections that would set a high growth scenario, putting the Whitehorse population at approximately 45,000 in 2040. A medium growth scenario puts the population at 40,000, with a low growth scenario at 35,000 in 2040.
Given the 16.3 per cent increase over the last five years that has brought the city’s population up to just over 30,000, concerns were highlighted that the population could actually grow to be much larger.
Simard responded by pointing out the city worked with the Yukon Bureau of Statistics in determining the potential growth scenarios, adding that rates will likely fluctuate over the nearly 20-year period. There are provisions in the document for another look at population changes should there be significant changes.
It was noted at an Aug. 2 technical briefing that while the OCP projects demand for another 6,150 housing units over the next 20 years, there’s potential for up to 14,000.
Cabott also said she would like to see stronger wording in place to look at the next new neighbourhood in the city.
“I think this council too would like to identify the next neighbourhood and not get ourselves in a position where we’re behind in developing,” she said.
It’s anticipated the city will explore the possibility of the area south of Copper Ridge, which is outlined in the OCP as a possibility for the city’s next major neighbourhood, in 2023, director of development services Mike Gau said at the briefing.
Exactly how long that will take is not known. Gau explained this process will be entirely new for the city as it will likely be a joint effort involving the three land owners in the area: the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Yukon government.
Both Gau and Simard pointed out there’s a lot of work in starting to look at the area as a possibility, including a number of feasibility studies and discussions with the other governments.
During the council meeting, Laking highlighted the continued development of Whistle Bend and Porter Creek outlined in the plan, noting it is putting more pressure on those neighbourhoods, and traffic around the major road to both neighbourhoods — Mountainview Drive — “is only going to get worse”.
While a transportation corridor is contemplated that would connect Mountainview Drive to the Kopper King through the proposed McIntyre Creek Regional Park area, Cabott pointed out studies would need to be done assessing first its need and then potential environmental and heritage impacts.
Laking said he likes that the door has been left open for the possibility, though as Cabott pointed out, it would be far into the future.
“I would suggest that by the time we get far into the future, we might not even need the transportation corridor, or it may be something that is completely different; differently envisioned than what we see as a road today,” the mayor said, agreeing it’s good to leave the door open on the concept.
As Simard emphasized during the technical briefing, the corridor “is not a given” as the need would first have to be assessed. She pointed out a transportation corridor doesn’t necessarily mean it would be for all traffic — it could be an active transportation corridor or a transit corridor, for example.
Council members emphasized that while a lot of public input went into the proposed OCP, there is still time for residents to have their say on the plan.
“You’ve got other opportunities now to read this document very carefully, and give us your feedback,” Coun. Kirk Cameron said.
Residents can visit https://www.engagewhitehorse.ca/ocp to view the proposed document. Written submissions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Council is slated to vote on first reading Aug. 8. If that is passed, a Sept. 12 public hearing will be held, providing another opportunity for input.
A report on the hearing would then come forward Oct. 3 with second reading set for Oct. 11. A 45-day ministerial review, required under the territory’s Municipal Act, would follow with that expected to conclude Dec. 3. Council would then vote on third reading Dec. 12.
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