Whitehorse officials are recommending council approves plans for a residential development near McIntyre Creek.
The plan will come before politicians as early as Monday.
The Porter Creek D subdivision includes a road and bridge that would extend Pine Street over the creek to the Alaska Highway.
At least one city councillor is expected to vote against the proposal.
Kirk Cameron, who won the city council byelection last night, is on record opposing developing the area.
“We are the Wilderness City and that means we must make good decisions that will maintain this sense of place,” he wrote in response to a questionnaire from the Yukon Conservation Society. “I am just not convinced that we need to damage further the ecology of Middle McIntyre Creek.”
The Yukon Conservation Society is also opposed to any development in the area.
This week, it asked Whitehorse residents to show up at Monday’s meeting to voice their opposition.
The conservation society wants the entire area protected.
“I don’t really think there is room for compromise,” said Karen Baltgailis, the society’s executive director.
Calling the city’s plans “shortsighted,” she questioned the project’s necessity.
“We do not think it’s worth it,” said Baltgailis.
The development is needed to keep up with population growth, according to city planners.
“We’ve been growing at 2.6 per cent,” said Mike Gau, city manager of planning and development services. “At that rate, in 20 years we’ll need 6,000 new housing units.”
Whistle Bend is expected to add 3,500 units to the city’s housing stock.
But even with Whistle Bend, infilling, and plans for densification of downtown, Gau said eventually the city will end up expanding across the river to Long Lake.
It will be expensive and will cause a significant environmental impact, he said.
With most of the easily developed land in the city already exhausted, options are limited, said Gau.
“Everywhere we propose development we face opposition,” he said.
Though the city has designated 280 hectares of McIntyre Creek as a park and only 18 per cent of the area is being considered for development, there is still a great deal of opposition.
Any development in the area is too much, said Baltgailis.
“It basically cuts the heart out of McIntyre Creek Park,” she said.
Council will be asked to vote on the proposal December 12.
Earlier this year, HB Lanarc won a $250,000 contract for the detailed design work pending council’s approval of the project.
If it approves the proposal, the contract will be awarded and the planning will begin.
That means more detailed studies of the environmental impacts and a lengthy consultation process, said Gau.
Even then, the project is still not a sure thing, he said.
“There are still many decision points along the way,” said Gau.
Housing still hot
Housing prices in Whitehorse remain at an all-time high.
The average price for a single detached home is now $455,700, according to the Yukon bureau of statistics.
That’s double what it was six years ago, when housing prices first started to climb.
“Of the last 19 quarters, 12 have set new record highs,” said Gary Brown, a senior information officer with the bureau.
This quarter was no exception.
Between July and September, the average price of a house rose more than $28,000.
The rental market is also red hot.
The average monthly rent in Whitehorse is $800.
That’s an increase of more than 25 per cent over the last five years.
And finding a place to rent isn’t easy.
The vacancy rate continues to hover around one per cent, the lowest it’s been since 1988.
The third quarter is usually the busiest in terms of sales volume, said Brown, but this quarter things have slowed down.
“It’s the lowest it’s been in 10 years,” he said.
But people shouldn’t read too much into these statistics, said Mike Racz, the president of the Yukon Real Estate Association.
“It’s not really a fair depiction of the market,” he said.
There are very few lower-priced houses for sale in Riverdale right now.
Most of the houses on the market right now are large, more expensive ones in suburbs like Copper Ridge, driving the average price up, said Racz.
“With such a small population, it doesn’t take much to sway it,” he said.
This winter, Racz expects the market to soften.
But with several developments coming online next year, he expects things to pick back up in the spring.
He also expects prices to come down a bit as new development takes some of the pressure off.
However, they won’t come down too far or too fast; the city still has a long way to go, said Racz.
“The city’s been out of land so long it’s going to take a lot to get us back to where we need to be,” he said.
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