Another city subdivision plan is getting a rough ride in council.
Developers, cross-country skiers and environment advocates squared off this week over a proposed residential subdivision between Fish Lake Road and the Alaska Highway.
The development will harm environmentally sensitive land, disrupt wildlife and cut through chunks of popular cross-country ski trails, say environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts.
“Talk about ‘pave paradise to put up a parking lot,’” said Cross-country Yukon president Claude Chabot.
“We’re not talking about paving anything here, but we do have a little piece of paradise to protect,” he told council Monday.
Phase one of the project would see a 36-hectare chunk of forested land between Fish Lake Road and the Alaska Highway subdivided into 17 country residential lots.
The lot sizes would range from 0.5 to 1.7 hectares, according to developer Mark Radke.
The remainder of the land, about 51 per cent, would be transferred to the city for public use, said Radke.
Raven’s Ridge Developments Ltd. owns the property, but needs council’s approval to rezone the area — some of which is currently zoned environmental protection, and some, future development — to country residential.
The plan should be revised or denied, said many skiers and environmentalists, outlining three problems.
First, some of the land is currently zoned for environmental protection.
The area has “high wildlife” values and “environmentally sensitive areas,” according to the Official Community Plan.
That means council would have to go against its plan to allow the development.
“It looks bad on paper because we want to take EP land and turn it into something else,” said Radke.
“But that’s a very, very tiny portion of the land — it’s less than a hectare in total proposed to come out of environmental protection.”
The area up for development is “one of the richest wildlife corridors, especially for birds, in Whitehorse,” said Mary Whitley, president of the Yukon Bird Club.
It’s a popular bird-watching destination that lures tourists with binoculars and deep pockets.
This area is home to hawks, eagles, owls, grouse, ptarmigan, woodpeckers, warblers and waterfowl.
Beaver, otter, mink and muskrat are also prevalent, according to the project description and environmental assessment drafted in February.
And one councillor, Doug Graham, says he won’t support changing the designation of any land currently protected in the Official Community Plan.
“That’s an absolute no-no,” said Graham Tuesday.
“You’d have to go totally against the Official Community Plan to take land out of environmental protection.
“There’s absolutely no way I would vote in favour of it unless that was cleared up.”
Second, the development cuts off key outdoor recreation trails.
Skiers and snowmobilers enjoyed the area’s trails long before the land was purchased for development, Jim Gilpin told council.
Some trails, like the 10-kilometre path created for the 1981 World Cup cross-country ski races, are among the best in the country, said Gilpin, speaking for the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club.
They are used by nearly 1,000 ski club members, plus others with day passes during the winter, and hikers, runners and cyclists during the summer.
Raven’s Ridge offered to relocate the 150 metres of the 10-kilometre trail that crosses the proposed lots.
“We’ve said we’ll not only move the trails, but we’ll give you tenure over this land and it wasn’t good enough, so we’re sort of at a loss for what else can be done,” said Radke.
The ski club has no rights to land owned by Raven’s Ridge, even though its trails run through the lots, Radke wrote in an open letter to the ski club.
“We have the ability, at any time, to terminate the Whitehorse Cross-country Ski Club’s use of those portions of the trails,” he wrote. “We have no desire to do so — rather, we continue to hope that we can work with the WCCSC in a constructive manner.”
Third, the current plan doesn’t leave enough land for recreation.
“Both the quality and quantity of land for public use is not sufficient and should be modified,” one ski club member told council this week.
The land, which sits beside an electrical substation and beneath a high-voltage power wire, is an “industrial wasteland.
“It’s more suitable for a parking lot, rather than a park.”
The ski club suggested marking off an additional 0.7 hectares in the subdivision’s southeast corner as a park reserve.
It says the 1.2-hectare chunk currently designated parks and recreation in the plan is unsuitable.
But Radke says the rezoning would cost the developers $150,000 to $200,000 in saleable land.
Phase two of the development, currently in its conceptual stage, would sit to the south of phase one.
It would cut off about 700 metres of ski trail.
Phase one of the project is currently under consideration by Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
Radke expects the report to be drafted by mid-May.
Pending YESAB and council approval Radke hopes to have a road constructed and lots for sale by next fall.