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Residents angered by prospect of losing their greenbelts

‘We should take this beautiful greenbelt and make it into a park, not build houses on it,” said Riverdale resident Leo Goulah.

‘We should take this beautiful greenbelt and make it into a park, not build houses on it,” said Riverdale resident Leo Goulah.

“Organize a school competition and have students come up with designs for a park; they will come up with a hell of a better idea for it than what the city is planning to do.”

The city wants to rezone heavily used greenbelts in Porter Creek, Takhini North and Riverdale to allow for more housing.

More than 100 people opposed to the idea tried to cram into a small room at the Westmark booked by city officials for a public meeting this week.

Many spilled into the hallway.

City planners, who asked the hotel to put out 60 chairs, apologized for the size of the room.

“Too bad the planning committee wasn’t involved,” shouted a wag at the back of the room.

This set the tone for the meeting, which verged on becoming unruly at times.

“Twenty five years ago, when we bought our property, we bought land that was beside a greenbelt, zoned parks and recreation,” said Riverdale resident Laura Hanson. “We bought it because it was beside this greenbelt and now you are changing the zoning,”

“Yes, that is unfortunate,” said city planner Lesley Cabott, to a huge, bitter guffaw.

Another resident said her daughter had a chronic disease, noting traffic congestion in Riverdale was already a problem.

“I was rushing her to the hospital this morning and it took me forever to get there due to the morning rush hour, which is a major problem in Riverdale,” she said.

“Has (the city planning committee) done a transportation study to determine the effects this new proposed housing will have on the already existent traffic problem?”

“No,” said planners.

Various residents then raised the need for another bridge across the Yukon River in Whitehorse.

It was revealed the potential development’s impact on Riverdale’s air quality and water system has also not been determined.

Riverdale schools use the greenbelt frequently for educational purposes, noted one man, and he wondered aloud whether they had been told about the proposed rezoning and offered an alternative green space.

“No,” said officials.

The proposed changes are the result of the next step in implementing the city’s official community plan.

Demand for city lots averages about 100 a year, and the city needs to develop these “infill” areas to meet demand, said planner Mike Gau.

Jeremiah Percival, who described himself as a lifetime Yukoner, questioned the economic and demographic rational behind this rezoning, especially now with high oil prices as a deterrent and no major development projects on the immediate horizon to draw people here.

The Yukon’s population has dropped over the last decade and has increased minimally only for the last two years, he said.

“The Yukon goes through these boom-and-bust cycles.”

The people moving here to live want big lots with wildlife in their backyards, not a house in an already densely packed subdivision, he continued.

“It will no longer be desirable to live in Whitehorse once all the greenbelts are developed.”

“With neighbours six feet away looking in my windows, I might as well be living in Calgary,” added Riverdale resident Duncan MacLeod.

It’s hard to say how many new building lots the infill areas could provide as that depends on the types of lots, explained Gau.

Lot size will vary depending on whether townhouses, duplexes or single-family houses get built.

Instead of infilling the smaller greenbelts, a number of anxious residents suggested developing Porter Creek’s lower bench, which could accommodate up to 2,400 new homes.

In 2001, preliminary costs of providing basic services, like sewage and water, in that area was estimated to be about $48.5 million.

Developing new homes within existing neighbourhoods, on the other hand, would cost the city only a third as much and would take much less time.

Rezoning these greenbelts as residential is a cheap cop-out by the city, said another enraged resident.

“You might think you are making a smaller ecological footprint, but we don’t want you standing in our pockets while you’re doing it,” added MacLeod.

Resident Steven Horn, a lawyer who works for the territorial government, wished the city had been clearer about what it wanted to resolve by rezoning the greenbelts.

The city should have planned more carefully before trying to tell the public this is something they should like, he said.

“There are big blocks in Porter Creek that have been zoned single-family residential and, if you know the area and the topography, you will know a lot of that can’t happen,” he said. “If you’re not going to do it, then don’t show it in the bylaw.”

Some residents asked whether the city had already received applications from builders for the rezoned greenbelts, and Cabott said there was an expression of interest in Riverdale.

“The greenbelt, used constantly by skiers, bikers, kids, dirt bikers, snowmobiles and dog walkers, is what brings value to the neighbourhood and, by taking this away, you are going to devalue Riverdale,” said another resident.

The zoning bylaw also examines downtown redevelopment opportunities, which raised even more questions.

Why has the city restricted buildings there to four storeys tall, wondered another resident, who went on to suggest allowing taller ones with residential housing on the upper levels.

“I know the city is worried about the effects of shadow from higher buildings,” said one resident. “I just wish they were as concerned about the greenbelts.”

Ironically, one of the mandates of the proposed rezoning is to expand greenbelts in some of the outlying areas, like around Long Lake.

“So we can drive to new greenbelts after you take away the ones in our backyards,” said another angry resident.

The city is merely complying with the Official Community Plan, which was established in 1998, the residents were told.

The plan, said Gau and Cabott, is dynamic.

“If it is dynamic, then what you’re hearing should register and be presented to council,” the residents maintained.

The city did not properly assess the implications of developing these greenbelts, said Jenny Trapnell, another Riverdale resident.

“I have a real good sense of the issues and topics surround this zoning bylaw, just from the amount of comments and people in the room,” said councillor Bev Buckway, who attended the meeting along with councillors Doug Graham and Jan Stick.

Although there was a brief opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions, many of the residents left the meeting feeling somewhat defeated.

“A significant negative response means nothing to these people,” said one person.

The public will get another chance to voice its concerns about the proposed zoning changes on April 25 in city council chambers, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Anyone wishing to make a written or verbal submission may do so then. However, written submissions must be submitted to the city clerk’s office no later than 4:30 p.m. on that day.