Pillai plans to entice developers

In the face of the housing crisis, city Coun. Ranj Pillai wants to prevent projects from being buried by their power costs. "This is just one very small piece of the puzzle that I think we can address quickly," he said.

In the face of the housing crisis, city Coun. Ranj Pillai wants to prevent projects from being buried by their power costs.

“This is just one very small piece of the puzzle that I think we can address quickly,” he said.

Pillai wants to save contractors the cost of burying electrical lines when developing lots.

“There can’t be any hidden costs,” he said about the incentive scheme. “Doesn’t matter if it’s high-end condos, doesn’t matter if it’s affordable housing, the utility lines have to be buried. There’s a significant cost.

“It’s a standard process, but with the cost of construction – in multi-residential especially – this cost dramatically affects the margins, meaning the profit, that people make.”

The idea is a good one, said Rich Thompson, CEO of the Northern Vision Development Corporation.

For the company’s new Waterfront development, right beside Boston Pizza on Second Avenue, it will cost $400,000 to bury the overhead lines, he said.

“You’re talking about six or seven dollars a square foot on your land,” he said. “It’s definitely been one of the biggest factors in our decision to go, or no go, on the waterfront station project and it still hangs in the bounds right now.

“We’re not against the idea of burying the cables. But it’s a tough market to build in, costs are extremely high, building costs, labour costs, and this can be expensive. It becomes a barrier to building projects in the Yukon.”

Older projects have had the cost covered by the city, said Thompson. This creates an uneven playing field.

But the city has never paid to bury lines for private development, said Wayne Tuck, manager of engineering and environmental services with the town.

“Why would taxpayers pay to bury power lines on private property?” he said. “And (burying lines) is not across-the-board mandatory. It depends on what they’re doing, where.”

But Pillai isn’t suggesting taxpayers shoulder the cost.

He is talking to city managers right now and is also planning to contact Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. with his idea to hold the cost and amortize it over time, most likely through property taxes paid by purchasers of the developed lots.

“This is brand new,” he said, adding that few other places offer this option.

Usually, as is the current case in Whitehorse, contractors simply include these costs in the overall price of the home, condo or apartment.

Which could still be offered as an option for purchasers, said Pillai.

But when it comes to non-profit initiatives, this cost can be a hard one to handle, he said, mentioning the Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition and their plans for a 20-unit, wet shelter.

There are still a lot of details to work out, admitted Pillai.

“But if we can make it a brighter picture, to develop privately, then the end result is that there are going to be more people jumping into the arena of land development,” he said. “It’s a start.”

The protocol of burying cable lines began in Whitehorse in the mid 1990s.

In large residential subdivisions, the territory fronts the bill and it is recovered in the cost of the lot, said Mike Gau, manager of planning and development services.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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