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MacBride’s mega museum plans undergo city scrutiny

Whitehorse City Council must sign off on bylaw changes before the MacBride Museum can go ahead with a planned major expansion.

Whitehorse City Council must sign off on bylaw changes before the MacBride Museum can go ahead with a planned major expansion.

That means there will be a chance for members of the public to voice their opinions on the changes.

MacBride Museum is planning a three-storey building that would envelop the historic Telegraph Office at the corner of Front and Steele streets.

At the end of August the museum announced it was getting $6 million from the territorial and federal governments to pay for the building which will add 1,700 additional square metres in museum space.

It’s designed to have five galleries including a map room.

But the plans don’t completely line up with the city’s rules for buildings in the area.

Any bylaw changes mean a public hearing before council can vote.

Getting through all of the paperwork is expected to take more than a month. First reading of the proposed changes will happen next week.

After that a public hearing would be scheduled for Oct. 11, followed by a report, second and third reading and a final vote Oct. 24.

Museum staff have said they plan to start construction in the fall. That hasn’t changed, said executive director Patricia Cunning.

“We have been aware of the city requirements and process timelines all along,” she said in an email yesterday. “Pending the outcome of the process, we intend to proceed this fall.”

A report presented to city council on Tuesday outlines bylaw changes that would need to be approved.

For one, current zoning rules say buildings need to be setback at least one metre to create a front yard.

The museum wants the new building would to go right up to the sidewalk.

The report to council notes that having no setback is standard for most downtown streets in Whitehorse. In the museum’s zone “a setback was included to encourage landscaping and beautification near the waterfront,” it says.

The museum also needs council to allow it to deviate from design guidelines that have been established for the waterfront.

While it meets some of those guidelines, there are other areas where the building falls short.

The guidelines say on big parcels of land new construction along a street edge should have the appearance of several smaller buildings.

They also say buildings should have tapered upper storeys, something the new building would not have.

“The applicant suggests that the proposal meets the intent of the guidelines, albeit through a varied design approach,” the city report says. “For example, instead of recessing upper storeys, the second and third floors would protrude over Front Street. This would provide some weather protection for pedestrians and would draw attention to ground level features, such as the Telegraph Office and the museum’s storefront displays.

Parking rules will also need to change for the new museum to go forward as planned.

As it stands MacBride only has two parking spots. “The new design proposes to eliminate these spaces and not provide any new parking,” the city’s report says.

Normally a building of that size would be required to have 14 spaces.

The zoning bylaw says parking can be located off-site within a 300-metre radius or the museum could pay a fee of $18,706 per space ($261,884 total) to the city’s parking reserve fund.

“MacBride Museum has indicated that the funding sources for building construction cannot be used to pay cash-in-lieu parking contributions, and is requesting that the requirement be removed,” the report says.

City staff appear sympathetic to MacBride’s situation. The museum has very few all-day visitors and is close to publicly-available street parking. Requiring it to have 14 parking spots is “likely excessive for the amount of parking actually needed,” the report reads.

There is still the question of employee parking.

The Whitehorse Downtown Parking Management Plan recommends that all-day parking for employees exist on every property. Short-term parking can be on the street.

“Reflecting the plan, MacBride Museum should ideally meet the parking needs of its employees on-site, or provide an alternative parking solution.”

After city council decides on the bylaw issues, the next step for the museum is to apply to for an historic resources permit.

That’s because the historic telegraph office, located on the southeast corner of the property, is the oldest building in Whitehorse still on its original site.

The building was made a municipal historic site in 2011 though it doesn’t have the same title on the territorial level.

The museum will need to prove that there is a plan in place during construction to protect the telegraph office.

Contact Ashley Joannou at