Whitehorse city council has approved studies to see if houses can be built around Long Lake and McLean Lake.
This work, to be done with a $600,000 contribution by the Yukon government, has been opposed by conservationists who worry that such plans will make building in these areas a foregone conclusion.
Some councillors also have reservations about developing the areas, but council unanimously approved the studies on Monday night.
Earlier this month, council postponed planning for the Porter Creek D subdivision until lots in the seventh phase of Whistle Bend are released. This may not happen for another 10 years. The areas around Long Lake Road and McLean Lake are the next places for the city to consider for development under the Official Community Plan.
Coun. Kirk Cameron expressed concerns that these projects may distract council from its short-term housing goals. He called for the city to build affordable housing in what Cameron calls “The Big Four”: the tank farm, downtown south, in-fills around the city, and land owned by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.
Cameron promised to be “a thorn” in council’s side to make these projects happen.
“I want to make sure that we do not stop the pressure on trying to get the short-term development interests met. So I just want to forewarn, you’ve got my support here, but it’s going to come with a price,” he said.
Coun. John Streicker was not as concerned this project would distract the city staff.
“It’s sort of like thinking, ‘Well we can’t have an HR department while we have these other things.’ We are a complex government. We have lots going on all the time. And we need to be looking at the future as well.”
Since the Official Community Plan clearly lists these areas for future development, he’d be concerned if administration didn’t recommend they be looked at, he said.
But Cameron wasn’t alone with his concerns.
“What bothers me a bit here is that we’re only looking at two areas, McLean Lake and Long Lake,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “We’re trying to mitigate the so-called urban sprawl. But there are vacant areas much closer to the city.”
The city’s planning department remains committed to planning in areas closer to city services, like downtown south and the tank farm, said Mike Gau, director of development services. The areas around McLean Lake and Long Lake Road are some of the only areas that are large and flat enough for houses to be built, he said.
The city needs to start looking at these areas in more detail now, and if they refuse the money, it’ll be harder to do that, he said. The funding lasts until March 31, 2015.
Knowing if development will happen in these two areas will help the city plan for infrastructure upgrades, said Gau. “It’s not just the development that’s on these two sites. It’s about what’s connected to them,” he said.
Coun. Dave Stockdale agreed. If development happens in the Long Lake area, a bridge will need to be built, he said.
“This is big infrastructure,” he told council.
And the city doesn’t have as much control over private development or First Nations land than it does with these areas, said Stockdale.
“If we put all our eggs in that basket, we’re going to end up with egg on our face,” he said.
This study doesn’t equal planning, Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said. And houses built around Long Lake and McLean Lake likely won’t be the affordable housing the city needs, she said.
And there are environmental concerns.
“This could become a very, very contentious issue in the future. We’re looking at if not, pristine, at least relatively under-developed areas in the city,” said Irwin. “And I would hope that the public would demand, not ask, demand, to be involved in any discussions in developing in these areas.”
The agreements do allow for public consultation, said Gau.
Council’s decision isn’t surprising, said Karen Baltgailis, the executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society. Development around Long Lake will be harder because of the bridge that would be needed, she said. The area around McLean Lake would likely be developed first, she said.
The society supports developing the old tank farm, in-fill sites and the southern part of downtown. It’s important the city not start with a predisposition for building housing, she said.
The Kwanlin Dun First Nation has land in these areas. Its officials did not respond to a request for an interview before deadline.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at