Lot shortage could hurt city, says real estate association

Whitehorse council will cause irreversible damage to the city’s economy if it doesn’t provide more single-family lots, says the Yukon…

Whitehorse council will cause irreversible damage to the city’s economy if it doesn’t provide more single-family lots, says the Yukon Real Estate Association.

“We’ve had a situation in Copper Ridge where we knew that we were going to be running out of single-family lots,” said Terry Bergen, the association’s president.

“Well, now Copper Ridge is filled.”

And, under the land-development protocol agreement, it’s the city’s responsibility to provide a wide variety of new lots, said Bergen.

It must do so, he said.

Since 2003, the city has sold an average of 125 single-family serviced lots each year.

However, current city planning would provide only 60 to 80 of these lots over the next five years.

If development plans remain the same, Whitehorse will have a shortfall of more than 500 single-family lots, said Bergen.

“The process has ground to a halt and they don’t recognize that they’re falling short.”

This will have serious consequences for the city, he said.

Whitehorse will lose more than 1,000 jobs generated by building these homes and $96 million in possible income.

As well, the city will lose out on $10 million in taxes and other revenue, said Bergen, referring to a fact sheet he presented to officials on March 31.

City officials don’t appear worried.

Planned multi-residential development —duplexes, condos and townhouses — will meet these future needs, said officials.

On April 10, a city news release announced more than 600 new housing units would be built in the next five years.

The city is focusing on building “units” instead of lots, and the numbers are impossibly optimistic, said Bergen.

For example, the city says it will provide 210 units in 2008, of which 119 will be single-family lots.

However, only 12 of those lots will be fully serviced urban lots. The rest are country residential.

But the city needs more urban lots, said Bergen.

What’s more, the 12 serviced lots are in the new Stan McCowan subdivision, and it’s questionable whether lots will be ready before the end of the year.

The Stan McCowan arena was only recently removed and Whitehorse will be awarding the contract for utilities development next Monday.

“We’re not talking about units or country residential lots, we need 120 urban lots per year,” said Bergen.

“Multifamily units are over and above that number.”

These single-family homes are the “bread and butter” of local construction companies, said Bergen.

Construction has some lots for this year, but next year “they’re going to be scratching.”

Homebuilders may have to lay off their skilled workers and the city will lose the building trades as well as the many companies that supply those trades.

“Perhaps this is some social engineering or something,” said Bergen.

“But just because the city wants everyone to live in multi-residential housing doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to buy them.

“You can’t expect people to live in high density if they want to live in a single-family home.”

The lack of single-family lots could create a fly-in economy.

“We foresee many new mining companies and tourism operators choosing to house their employees in camps and fly workers in from larger communities where they have the capacity to accommodate them,” said Bergen.

“People say that we’re doing this for ecological reasons, but how environmentally friendly is it when people are living in Vancouver and flying in on a daily basis?

“We’re exporting our jobs essentially.”

The city will lose out on tax revenue as well as the local income generated by building 625 homes.

The realtors don’t benefit from having new lots, said Bergen.

“We’re doing this for the health of the local economy,” he said.

“We’ve seen the price of a single-family lot go from $40,000 to $120,000 over the years.”

City densification through multi-residential housing is part of the city’s sustainability plan and the downtown area plan, said councillor Florence Roberts.

“They are the public’s plans, this is what the public wants.”

And with a shortage of available land for development, “the only way we can go is up,” she said.

Roberts is wary of large-scale lot development due to the territory’s boom-and-bust economy.

“To me, what we’re doing here is a false economy,” she said.

“It all depends on the price of commodities.”

The city still needs to work out something concrete with YTG so that all city land is marketed and sold in an equitable way, said Roberts.

And she would like to see the city do more infill in what she calls “orphan lots,” the undeveloped lots between homes throughout the city.

Council does not necessarily exist to provide for demand, she said.

“I’m here to represent the people and the people are telling us that they want more densification.”

“If you look at the plans for Takhini North you’ll see how much it costs to put servicing in,” she continued.

“It’s getting to the point that young people can’t afford to buy a house.

“But they can only afford condos and duplexes.”

Many Yukoners “want their own piece of the rock,” said Roberts.

“And they still have the opportunity to do that — just outside of the city’s limits.”

The Porter Creek lower bench is the only solution to the city’s lot shortage and development of that subdivision should be fast tracked, said Bergen.

Instead, the city has been wasting time with excessive public consultation.

“We’ve participated in their charrettes and nobody goes to them,” he said.

“They provide food and drinks and still nobody goes to them.”