Porter Creek land grab shocks council

City officials are “dumbfounded” by a Yukon government-supported proposal to build residential lots in Porter Creek.

City officials are “dumbfounded” by a Yukon government-supported proposal to build residential lots in Porter Creek.

And the surprise proposal has opened old wounds between the city and the territory on land development within Whitehorse.

The tension was clear at Monday’s council meeting.

Would-be private developer Daryl Novakowski showed up with a blueprint to develop 44 residential lots in a Porter Creek greenspace, owned by the Crown.

To build in greenspace, a developer must ask for an official community plan amendment and rezoning.

But, to do that, the developer needs the landowner’s permission.

Novakowski got it straight from the Yukon’s Resources minister Archie Lang.

Novakowski obtained a letter, on ministerial letterhead, granting him permission to ask the city to rezone the area on the territory’s behalf.

“The Yukon government takes no position on the future uses of these lands,” said Lang in his March 29 letter.

“I write to advise that the Yukon government, as the landowner, has afforded its consent to Mr. Daryl Novakowski to bring forward such an application for the city’s consideration.”

Direct future inquiries about the land to Novakowski, added Lang.

Last year, Novakowski sought the Yukon Party nomination in Copperbelt. He didn’t get it.

“I have come to an arrangement with YTG for this land,” Novakowski told council when presenting the letter.

Pressed for details on the arrangement, he said they were confidential.

That alarmed councilor Doug Graham.

“If it’s confidential then I’ll tell you right now that you’ll have total opposition from this councillor,” said Graham on Monday.

“Any disposition of lands in the territory or in the city of Whitehorse should be a public process as far as I’m concerned.”

Is there “an agreement for sale?” councillor Mel Stehelin asked Novakowski.

“Yes,” said Novakowski.

Tuesday morning, Novakowski cold-called The News and recanted his statements to council.

“It’s not confidential; it’s just a lengthy and hideous process that I don’t want to get into,” he said.

But if the city permits the development, the territory will sell him the land for a “nominal amount,” he said.

“Once the city OKs it, and the public decides, then it’s a go-ahead.”

The letter was just simple protocol, said Lang.

“What we’re doing is giving Mr. Novakowski the right, that we would give any Yukon citizen, to go in front of the city with the proposal,” said Lang Tuesday.

If the city approves, the territory and the city would have to figure out how to proceed.

But there is no agreement to sell Novakowski the land, said Lang.

“There is no agreement there at all. As far as the next step of buying the property there has been no debate on that at all and, because there’s been no debate, there’s no decision.”

But Novakowski believes there’s a sales agreement.

It’s a simple misunderstanding, said Lang.

“The issue most people have when they go in front of city council is they sometimes say things in the heat of the moment because they’re not professional people used to presenting things,” said Lang.

“There will be debate down the road and, I guess, at that point if he’s successful then step two is asking how this will unfold.

“At that point, I guess, there will be a process put in place for purchasing what he applied for, or whatever the city decides,” added Lang.

Lang’s approach has angered city politicians, who have been mired in a divisive land-development debate.

“We’re dumbfounded that the government of Yukon would take this approach to the disposition of lands in the city,” said mayor Ernie Bourassa.

The government should have “at least talked to the city” before allowing Novakowski’s rezoning application.

“My question to minister Lang is that if I wanted a similar letter of support to build in the Chadburn Lake reserve, would he give that to me?” asked Bourassa.

“Why would you do that for one developer? If the land is for sale, why not go out for a public tender process rather than sole-source it to one individual?”

The mayor sees two major problems with the proposed subdivision.

First, the 44-lot development would sit in a Porter Creek greenbelt.

“I would think the government would at least look at the city’s official community plan,” said Bourassa.

And that it would choose land already earmarked for residential development, rather than a chunk of land protected as greenspace — especially in light of Porter Creek residents’ recent push for increased protection of city greenspaces, said Bourassa.

And secondly, months ago the city asked the Resources department to turn that land into a park.

“The city sent a letter and verbally requested that Yukon’s lands branch re-survey the entire Holly Street area into one lot and transfer it, as a park, to the city,” said Bourassa.

“It’s astounding to me that the government would ignore the city of Whitehorse in this whole issue.”

Although Lang is Resources minister, he heard nothing about that application.

“No, the land has been sitting there and nobody’s approached me on a park,” said Lang. “As far as the city approaching us, I have nothing on record that says they approached us for a park there.”

Now, Novakowski will ask city planners to draft a motion before council to amend the official community plan to allow the Holly Street development.

“I’m hoping to get everything set up this summer and start construction no later than August,” said Novakowski.

And he is determined to push forward no matter what.

“I don’t have an expiration date on my acting agent agreement so, if this council doesn’t approve it, I’m going to wait until this council is out of office and I’ll come back again and again,” said Novakowski.

But he’s still light years away from breaking ground, said Bourassa.

“At this point, the likelihood of him getting that approval from city council is next to nil,” he added.

“It’s just not going to happen.”

n IN THE LEGISLATURE

Opposition ministers call foul on Lang’s letter

There’s something rotten about the Novakowski land deal, said opposition critics.

A few months ago, Novakowski lost the Yukon Party nomination for the Copperbelt riding to Cynthia Kearns, said New Democrat Steve Cardiff.

“Now (Lang) is authorizing the same person to apply for development permits within the city limits” despite strong community opposition.

“Maybe that is a consolation prize for not getting the (party) nomination,” quipped Cardiff in the legislature Tuesday.

“The government says they have no stake in it, but you’re damn right they have a stake in it — they’re the ones who are going to sell the property.”

Lang’s land-development record is sketchy, said Liberal Pat Duncan.

“Yukoners have had it with this minister,” charged Duncan. “He has not learned anything in his time in office about separating his duties as minister and his other activities.”

She cited “disasters” with Fish Lake lots and recalled that, a couple years ago, Lang told the Yukon Agricultural Association he would pre-approve its land application without going through the Land Application Review Committee.

“Now this minister is in the middle of a fiasco that has the Yukon Party promising another piece of Porter Creek to three different groups — three tries.”

“The minister still hasn’t figured his role out,” Duncan added.

The comments left Lang on the defensive.

“There is no side deal with any developer in the Yukon,” Lang answered.

“The process is in place; the proponent will get his day in court, like every Yukoner has the right to do. He will present his case to the city of Whitehorse and move forward.”