Strong local opposition to an environmentally friendly resort development around Takhini Hot Springs could very well be based “on not understanding what we’re doing,” said the operation’s majority shareholder Gary Umbrich.
“We need to find a way to get in a process where we can sit down and talk about this, because the government process hasn’t worked for us,” he said.
At two public meetings, Umbrich described making presentations on the proposed development to local residents, but being met only with prepared statements.
“Lot size, density, God knows, roads, and whatever is involved … if [the Yukon government] grants this, part of me thinks, ‘What won’t they grant?’” said one resident at a meeting.
“Right now there is no dialogue, there is only positioning and it’s really hard for us to get the dialogue going,” said Umbrich.
“We’re extending the opportunity to say ‘Let’s talk,’ but really all we get back is a petition,” he said. The petition had 100 signatures.
Under the proposed development, the Takhini Hot Springs shareholders want to maintain two-thirds of the property as forested natural reserve, and develop the remaining one-third into small “nodes” — each containing a different element of the resort community, such as a high-end spa or a campground.
“At this development, you’ll be surrounded by forest, you won’t even know that neighbouring nodes exist,” said Umbrich.
Retaining most of the land as forest is meant to avoid the “urban” feel of other resorts such as Banff or Whistler. Each node would be separated by at least 200 to 300 meters of forest, connected to each other solely by walking trails.
The resort’s visitors and residents would leave their cars at a central parking node and proceed on foot.
The Takhini Hot Springs corporation wants to retain control of the two-thirds of forested area, as well as the trail system and all utilities and access points, whilst selling off the nodes at the smallest possible size — “Less than half a hectare,” said Umbrich — in order to best preserve surrounding trees.
However, current regulations impose a minimum lot size of 10 hectares for any land subdivisions, which effectively prevents the corporation from keeping the resort community together as any kind of cohesive whole.
“Our overall theme is ‘back to nature,’ and with that, the last thing you want to do is let go of large chunks of land that could go against that theme,” said Umbrich.
Other “back-to-nature” elements include a plan to use the hot springs to provide geothermal power to all the different nodes, and a greenhouse development to grow food for the resort.
“When you get into high-end destination spas, they don’t even talk about the 100-mile diet, they talk about the one-mile diet,” said Umbrich.
The 10-hectare regulations were originally struck in 1996 in order to prevent a series of ad-hoc land subdivisions that threatened to “suburbanize” the area.
While some residents will always remain opposed to any increase of activity in the area, Umbrich says that if his group’s intentions are clearly stated, they will have a chance to allay the fears of local residents.
“We want to know how it impacts them, so that we can mitigate those impacts,” said Umbrich.
“This is a green development, and that’s what green development is all about — creating development in a way that doesn’t have negative impacts,” he said.
Erik Val, official spokesperson for the concerned residents, could not be reached before press time.
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