Open planning process invites competing views

Popular mountain biking trails in Chadburn Lake could be paved over and Long Lake could be zoned for industrial development if public suggestions about the Official Community Plan are approved.

Popular mountain biking trails in Chadburn Lake could be paved over and Long Lake could be zoned for industrial development if public suggestions about the Official Community Plan are approved.

“People who are concerned by these prospects should voice their opinions to the city,” said Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society.

Tomorrow is the last day for public comment on the first phase of Whitehorse’s Official Community Plan.

In April, the planning department held three “community cafes” to gather input on the types of development people would like to see in the city.

Urban residential development, park reserve designation, downtown building heights and industrial development were just some of the topics the community consultations dealt with.

The city will be taking comments from this stage of the planning process and will incorporate them into the final plans for the 2009 Official Community Plan.

“I applaud the city for involving the public in this decision-making process, but there needs to be a more orderly way of making these changes,” said Baltgailis.

The planning department will have difficulty reconciling competing views presented during the community cafes, and deciding whether protected areas will be lost, said Baltgailis.

The city’s sustainability plan will be consulted in making those decisions, said Mike Ellis, the city’s senior planning official.

“Right now we’re welcoming any and all opinions,” said Ellis. “It’s good for people to see how many broad and differing ideas there are in this city.”

There have been conflicts between pro-development and pro-protection interests, said Ellis.

“Development on Grey Mountain Road is one example,” says Ellis. “Some people have been telling us they want to see residential development there and this would mean it would cut into Chadburn Lake.

“My preliminary response to that would be to say no, however, the city has been growing a lot since 2002 and we could potentially accommodate growth in a logical, sustainable way.”

Of course, the difficulty is that, sustainability, a word long thrown around by both environmentalists and government officials, is hard to define.

Citizens have long asked for control over the process of deciding what sustainable development is.

In 2006, Porter Creek citizens, angered by zoning bylaw changes in their area, demanded a referendum any time the city was considering changing an area’s designation from greenbelt, park reserve or environmental protection to industrial.

Citizens successfully petitioned the city to hold a referendum whenever land designations were slated to change.

The city is now trying to reverse this decision to expedite city development.

The Official Community Plan questionnaire asks whether residents want to amend the need for a referendum.

“It’s disturbing,” said Baltgailis “This policy is a result of 2,500 Whitehorse residents signing a petition. It is one of the few protections that green space in Whitehorse has from development.”

But Ellis said the referendum promotes shortsighted planning.

“The referendum allows for direct democracy, but encourages people to look at changes in the city in isolation rather than as a whole plan.”

The referendum is problematic to developers because it slows the construction process down, said Ellis.

“We already offer people opportunities to voice their thoughts on where park reserves should be and, if you couldn’t make the meeting, then you really have no excuse to be angry with the decision,” said Ellis.

Phase two of the Official Community Plan starts this week. Planners will compile the feedback into a single document that will eventually be made available to the public for further refinement.

The process is expected to wrap up by the end of June.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com