Mount Lorne land issues debated

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers is defending the territory's plans to allow more housing in the hamlet of Mount Lorne. One proposal would allow residents to subdivide their land.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers is defending the territory’s plans to allow more housing in the hamlet of Mount Lorne.

One proposal would allow residents to subdivide their land. Another would see new lots developed in what’s known as the McGowan lands - an area south of Cowley Creek, in the northwest portion of Mount Lorne.

Residents worry these changes may spoil the rural charm of the area. The hamlet instead wants the territory to conduct a long-overdue review of the local area plan first.

When the plan was created in 1995, it was supposed to be reviewed within five years. But that still hasn’t happened yet.

The NDP’s MLA for Mount Lorne, Kevin Barr, echoed the hamlet’s calls in the legislature on May 1.

But Cathers refused to budge.

The NDP has often complained the Yukon Party hasn’t done enough to address the territory’s housing shortage, Cathers noted.

“It would be somewhat hypocritical … to argue that housing should be developed, but not in his backyard,” he said.

The plans to build up Mount Lorne have yet to receive final cabinet approval. But Peter Percival, chair of the hamlet council, didn’t detect much sympathy from the government during a recent meeting.

“I kind of wish we had Brad Cathers as our MLA,” he said. “Then maybe he’d think about supporting us.”

A better fix to the housing pinch would be to build a new subdivision closer to Whitehorse, said Percival. That would also help the municipality, as Mount Lorne residents live outside city limits so they don’t pay city taxes.

The hamlet worries the current changes are being rushed through. It has asked for a review of its local area plan “forever,” said Percival. “It’s crazy.”

He also expressed concern that the area the government considers the McGowan lands is considerably larger than the land settled by Harvey McGowan in the 1980s. It also reaches into an area that’s designated to be a nature reserve, said Percival.

The first phase of the McGowan development would cover 175 hectares and include fewer than 50 lots, said Rick Gorczyca, manager of lands availability. If the plan proceeds, these lots could be up for sale in two years, he said.

A technical feasibility study prepared by the territory suggests building between 70 to 140 lots on the McGowan lands. That has the potential to effectively double the number of homes in Mount Lorne, which currently has approximately 140 residential lots.

But the number of new lots will likely be revised after a geotechnical study is done this summer, said Gorczyca.

Some parts of the technical study have been shelved, such as plans to build near caribou habitat on the northern edge of the McGowan lands.

A survey will be sent to Mount Lorne residents in June, asking their views on how to best allow the subdivision of property. If the needed amendments proceed to let this happen, residents could subdivide within a year, said Gorczyca.

A comprehensive review of the Mount Lorne plan isn’t practical at this point, said Jerome McIntyre, the director of land planning.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has asked for a regional land use plan to be in place before local plans are reviewed, McIntyre noted. It and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation are both busy with other land-use issues.

“Proceeding with a comprehensive plan at this point wouldn’t include settlement land, which is the more desirable way to proceed,” said McIntyre. “And it would take three years to complete.

“There’s an immediate planning need to make land available and deal with affordable housing. That’s why we want to proceed with this focused review.”

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