The only thing that’s harder than finding housing in Whitehorse may be planning to build more.
“It’s an issue that we try to address,” Coun. John Streicker told a crowd that filled council chambers Wednesday night to learn more about plans to build the Porter Creek D subdivision in the McIntyre Creek area.
Council has to consider the concerns of the whole city, said Streicker. And when citizens oppose development, council is left wondering where more houses can be built, he said.
The two-hour meeting was supposed to have two parts. First, citizens would comment and ask questions. Then they would indicate where in the Porter Creek D area they thought housing should be built.
But the meeting never reached the second stage. Instead, citizens voiced unanimous disapproval of the project for over an hour.
Last year, council voted in favour of planning for development in the area, but the new council has decided to revisit that decision, said Mike Ellis, the city’s senior planner. An engineering firm was testing the soil in the area, but that work has stopped, he said.
No one knows how big the development would be, he said. Old plans pegged the number of units for the area between 300 and 400, he said. But new information means the city can’t say how many units can be built there, he said.
Council can stop planning at any time, said Ellis. Environmental assessment processes can’t begin until the planning process is complete, he said.
But citizens who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting want planning to stop. Developing in the McIntyre Creek area doesn’t fit with Whitehorse’s reputation as the Wilderness City, they said. Conservationists expressed concern that building in the area would destroy habitat for birds.
The area needs to be conserved so people can enjoy recreation in the city, said Dorothy Bradley, president of Friends of McIntyre Creek. “This is a gem that the city needs to keep,” she said.
For Takhini residents, it’s their main place to enjoy the wilderness, said Erica Heuer. “That’s our place,” she said, adding that it “feels like it’s been under siege for almost a decade.”
Years ago, she thought living near McIntyre Creek would be great, she said. But then she realized if the area became private property, fewer people would get to enjoy the site, she said.
And Whitehorse may not even need more houses, said Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society. Plans that say Whitehorse needs more housing are based on vague estimates and the assumption that mining will increase, she said. Even if mining does increase, most workers don’t live in Whitehorse, she said. And with new developments in the works, Porter Creek D may not even be needed.
“It’s not important to our housing needs over the next 20 years,” she said.
Porter Creek D could also impact the future growth of Yukon College, said Rolf Hougen, the college’s recently retired chancellor. He would like to see more land preserved for future college use, he said.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu asked if the college could develop the land without threatening the area.
Most of the area can’t be developed for homes, said Hougen. It’s better suited for hiking, he said.
Council will vote on whether or not to continue with plans for the area in January.
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