Petition continues despite city claims

Whitehorse administrators have ruled questions on the petition to create a park at McLean Lake are invalid.

Whitehorse administrators have ruled questions on the petition to create a park at McLean Lake are invalid.

But the petitioners are not deterred and will continue to collect signatures as planned.

“The petition is not stalled,” said Marianne Darragh, one of the organizers.

“I think they’re overstepping themselves, getting involved at this point and trying to undermine the question with legal complaints.”

Whitehorse residents who sign the petition are asking the city to create a park within a boundary 500 metres from the high-water mark of McLean Lake.

The new park would require an amendment to the city’s Official Community Plan and zoning bylaws.

The petition also asks the city to pursue purchasing the land around the lake from the territorial government.

“The questions are invalid, so if we got a list I would challenge them in court and have it quashed,” said administrative services director Robert Fendrick.

“There are legislative remedies for me to do that.”

The city’s lawyers have found many problems with the petition question, said Fendrick.

First, the proposed amendment will infringe on privately held lands.

The city would have to prove that this infringement was necessary for the overall public interest.

And the petition and subsequent referendum would make changes to the community plan and zoning bylaw without public hearings or public input.

Public input is required under the municipal act and changes to the Official Community Plan also require ministerial review.

“For us just to simply open the bylaw, change the wording, pass it, then we’re done, is simply not allowed under the municipal act,” said Fendrick.

“It has to be for the benefit for the community as a whole.”

Darragh gave Fendrick notice of the petition on February 26, but he refused to sign it until a legal review had been completed.

Darragh’s lawyers found that no review was necessary under the referendum legislation and she returned on March 14 to again have it signed.

Although Fendrick did again not sign the notice, Darragh is using that date as the beginning of the petition’s 90-day period to collect its 2,000 signatures.

When Fendrick spoke of the legal review a month ago, he said that there were three possible outcomes.

The questions could be satisfactory, require changes or be completely invalid.

The city administration found the questions to fall in the latter category. They did not offer any suggestions for changes.

“There was nothing we could do with them,” said Fendrick.

“Those questions dictate to the city to unilaterally change the OCP, the zoning bylaw and acquire land and you just can’t do that.”

A 30-metre buffer zone around the lake is already environmentally protected and council will discuss creating a park at McLean Lake during a review of the Official Community Plan this September, he added.

Darragh welcomes the city’s challenge to take her petition to court.

“I don’t know if they’ll have such an easy time in court with that argument,” she said.

Darragh will continue to collect signatures for her petition, which is going really well, she says.

“I went out myself and the reception was amazing. It’s been pretty encouraging.”

“They’ve taken a really aggressive stance against us but they might find it a lot harder to do that in the face of 2,000 signatures,” she added.