A proposed development at 107 Range Rd. has Whitehorse city council once again considering the possibilities for drive-thrus along the Alaska Highway corridor.
At council’s Feb. 15 meeting, members were presented with a proposed rezoning for the property that would allow a drive-thru option. The property is already zoned as Highway Commercial, which allows eating and drinking establishments. The rezoning is required for the drive-thru component only.
As city planner Zane Hill explained, the restaurant and drive-thru are one component of a larger development planned for the site.
While drive-thrus are typically limited to the downtown, Hill noted that in 2017 council did approve a rezoning for a drive-thru on the Alaska Highway at the Kopper King, though the drive-thru has never been added as of yet.
The approval came from council despite a recommendation by staff not to permit the drive-thru because it wasn’t in line with policies in the Official Community Plan that aim to encourage businesses along the highway that complement, rather than compete with those downtown; that discourage vehicle idling to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and further considering land use along the highway through a more comprehensive land-use review.
At that time, the five council members who voted in favour of allowing the drive-thru argued it could actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep some drivers off busy downtown streets as they may choose not to head downtown with the drive-thru available on the highway. It was also argued business competition could be healthy and that there had not been any concerns expressed by the business community over the proposed zoning change.
Similar issues came up over the proposal for 107 Range Rd. with Hill highlighting various parts of the OCP, including a section specifically titled Land Use Adjacent to Highways which stated that mixed-use industrial-commercial sites along the highway should provide for transportation uses that need to travel along the main corridor as well as large-scale retail uses requiring outdoor storage.
“Moreover, it states that these uses are not meant to compete directly with businesses in downtown,” he stated in his report to council. “The intent behind this statement in the OCP has been carried forward from the 1994 OCP, of which resulted in removal of drive-thru uses from being permitted in Highway Commercial zoning.”
Hill went on to acknowledge, however, that the current OCP does not include a clear policy that could guide a review of drive-thru establishments for the Range Road location. While the land use corridor plan has not been done, Hill pointed out work is underway on the city’s next OCP, which determines land designation throughout the city.
“This comprehensive process will determine if, and where, these types of uses should be located outside of the downtown,” he said.
The report also went on to highlight the climate emergency declared by the city in 2019 and the city’s sustainability plan which aims to add 48 per cent more people using active transportation and transit by 2030. It’s not anticipated the site would draw many travelling by active transportation or transit.
“Permitting a drive-thru component at this location will not aid in achieving the city’s sustainability plan target,” Hill stated in his report.
Coun. Dan Boyd, who was part of the previous council and voted in favour of allowing the drive-thru component at the Kopper King, also acknowledged the city’s efforts to deal with climate change as well as the increased pressure of traffic on downtown roads in recent years, pointing out this could encourage traffic to stay on the highway corridor rather than coming downtown.
He also highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing out that for those who had to travel by road to Alaska there weren’t a lot of places to stop along the highway.
“There was very limited services,” he said.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu, also a member of the previous council who voted in favour of the zoning change at the Kopper King, suggested the change at 107 Range Rd. “might not be a bad idea”, pointing to the convenience it would provide for those travelling along the highway.
Similarly, Coun. Laura Cabott said that not everyone lives downtown and the drive-thru would likely serve those driving or biking by the area to get to their homes in neighbourhoods like Hillcrest or Valleyview among others.
Coun. Steve Roddick, meanwhile, questioned how this type of development fits with survey results for the upcoming OCP that showed 81 per cent of respondents support shops and services being within walking distance of their homes while also emphasizing the importance of looking at how development will impact the city 20 to 30 years into the future.
Ultimately, it was suggested in Hill’s report the application may warrant further public comment.
If council approves first reading of the rezoning at its Feb. 22 meeting, a public hearing on the proposal would be held March 22.
That would be followed by a report to council April 6 before the final two readings of the bylaw come forward April 12.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org