Poor voter turnout doesn’t necessarily mean citizens don’t care about development, said Whitehorse deputy mayor Dave Austin.
Yesterday, fewer than a quarter of all eligible voters showed up at city polling stations to vote in the Porter Creek plebiscite and the Arkell subdivision referendum.
“Either people don’t care or there’s a whole bunch of people out there saying, ‘Look we elected these guys to make the decisions, let them make them,’” said Austin.
“I’d rather take the positive spin to it and say that they trust city council to make the right decisions.”
Either way, the majority voted in favour of the greenspace map and Porter Creek’s Lower Bench development.
Of 1,379 voters, 1,139 favoured the Green Space Map while 233 voters did not.
The Porter Creek Bench is designated urban-residential in the Official Community Plan and is zoned future-development in the zoning bylaw.
The city planning services department began work on the public planning process for this development in early 2006.
In November, a planning and design charrette was held.
More than 65 residents, planners, engineers, environmentalists, scientists and politicians participated in this five-day collaborative planning workshop.
Through the charrette, a concept map, vision statement, guiding principles, a greenspace map and a description of the main features of the proposed Whistle Bend neighbourhood were developed.
The greenspace map shows the approximate boundaries for protected greenspace, the significant wildlife areas and the area suitable for development.
The greenspace map also shows the conceptual trail connections and outlines how the greenspace will be managed.
The Arkell subdivision referendum asked voters if they were in favour of amending the Official Community Plan by changing the designation of lands between the Arkell and McIntyre subdivisions from greenbelt to urban-residential, to allow development.
To this, 930 people voted yes and 440 people voted no.
The area in question is a 13-hectare parcel owned by the Yukon government and is located north of the Arkell subdivision and south of the McIntyre subdivision.
It had been proposed for residential development when Arkell was developed in 1989.
The Kwanlin Dun land claim negotiation stymied its development at the time.
During the 2002 Official Community Plan process the area was set aside as part of the larger adjacent greenbelt area that lies north and west of the McIntyre, Logan and Copper Ridge subdivisions.
A city bylaw requires that any Official Community Plan amendment that changes a land designation from greenbelt, environmental protection or park reserve must be put to a binding referendum.
The referendum and plebiscite wasn’t worth the almost $20,000 cost, said Austin.
“It’s time consuming, it’s expensive and it doesn’t yield the results that you really want to see.”
“We need more people involved in the process but not on a project-by-project basis.”
Austin prefers the “normal” process where city planning decisions are left up to city council and the developer, be it the territorial government or a private developer.
“We didn’t choose this system; it was forced on us,” he said.
The green light to development is a good thing, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to have land available for the city to keep moving forward, to keep our economy going.”
Whitehorse’s last 11 developable lots were sold recently, and that concerns Karp.
It has effectively postponed development until the year 2010 when the Porter Creek Lower Bench comes online, he said.
“The next three years we’re in trouble because the builders won’t have lots to build on, so the tradespeople won’t have jobs to go to, so they’re going to go somewhere else to work and we’re going to get into a very bad situation,” said Karp.
Without new homes being built, the Whitehorse real-estate market will become inflated preventing newcomers from coming here, he added.