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Old Town rezoning opposed by residents

Lori Austin wants to turn a former drug house into a daycare centre.She can’t believe how much resistance she’s been getting from her…

Lori Austin wants to turn a former drug house into a daycare centre.

She can’t believe how much resistance she’s been getting from her neighbours.

Since purchasing a home at 710 Jarvis Street in May, Austin has cleaned out all the needles and garbage from the back yard.

Last week she told city council she was willing to invest the money into making the house habitable.

“It’s been pretty trashed inside,” she said.

“It would require a significant amount of money to get it up to standard where somebody could live in it.”

The city’s planning department has recommended council amend the zoning of the lot to allow for a daycare centre.

But residents were quick to condemn the idea as soon as they got wind of it.

“Lori Austin is trying to turn her rezoning application of 710 Jarvis St. into something like an ‘honourable cause’ just because it was a former drug house,” wrote Astrid and Felix Vogt of 109 Jarvis Street in an e-mail to all city councillors.

“We urge city council to see through this unfair attempt and look at the real facts.”

The facts are that the proposed daycare lot is in Old Town, an area recognized in the city’s newly created Downtown Plan as having the character of a single-family residential neighbourhood, without integrating commercial uses.

The plan identifies Old Town as being “generally bounded by Sixth Avenue west to the escarpment, and from Pioneer Cemetery to the alley between Cook and Ogilvie Streets.”

“Austin bought this downtown residential property with a business plan in mind,” wrote the Vogts.

“She wants to open a daycare centre in the middle of one of the last beautiful residential neighbourhoods in downtown Whitehorse.

“(She) clearly neglected to do her homework beforehand and simply did not thoroughly check the zoning for this location.”

But while council passed the Downtown Plan on May 23rd, Austin had purchased the house almost two weeks before on May 11th.

She was told by the city that daycares are considered to be compatible with residential areas and that a zoning amendment could be considered if she bought the property.

There is already a daycare in the same area at the corner of Seventh and Alexander.

“I’m really surprised. I didn’t think it would be a big deal,” said Austin in an interview Friday.

She said Monday’s council meeting was the first time she had heard of any opposition.

“I had talked to other neighbours and I hadn’t heard anything,” she said.

Austin has been running a day care out of her Pine Ridge home for the past four years. Her house is only licensed for up to 12 kids.

If the Jarvis location were approved for a daycare, she would be allowed 32 children under the Child Care Act, although council can limit the number.

She said it is a lot better suited for a daycare then the other houses she saw on the market.

“I looked at lots of different houses, none of them I thought would make a suitable daycare.

“I mean there were lots of houses and cheaper houses then the one I got, and they were either too small or two dark.

“This one has three levels of wide open space and that’s much more conducive to a day care than a little house.”

Residents are concerned the centre would increase the traffic level in the area and there would not be enough room onsite to handle off-street parking for employees. This would limit parking space for neighbouring residences.

Childcare centres require one off-site parking spot per every eight children.

Council doesn’t seem too keen on the idea, said councillor Dave Stockdale on Friday.

“I have a hint it probably won’t make it through first reading,” he said.

“I was against it from the beginning.”

Stockdale said although it sounds cruel to deny a daycare centre, the neighbourhood has a right to protect their environment.

“We recently passed that downtown plan and this is definitely a residential zone and incrementally if you allow commercial developments in there then they lose the character of the neighbourhood,” he said.

It sets a precedent, he said.

“Then the next thing that comes along you say, ‘Well you did it for this person, why can’t we do it for this person?’”

Stockdale also said he didn’t like the idea of having 32 children in the house, even though it falls within the allowable limit.

And it isn’t adjacent to a park like it should be, he said.

Jan Montgomery Park is approximately 100 metres away.

Tonight council will decide whether to proceed with the zoning amendment.

If it is approved for first reading, there will be a public hearing scheduled and letters sent out to property owners within 100 metres.

Currently there are three daycares in the downtown area.