Tying replacement costs of ancient plumbing lines to new housing-lot construction is unacceptable, say Takhini North residents.
The move will bring the city closer to a lawsuit and may lead the community to pull support on Whitehorse’s next major development, they say.
City hall is prepared for a lawsuit, say city officials.
The city will not pay for water and sewer line construction on private property, they added.
Comments from both sides came after the initial plan for new development in the Takhini North subdivision was unveiled at the conclusion of a neighbourhood charrette Wednesday night.
The three-phase plan calls for at least 195 new housing units to be built in Takhini North green areas, according to the city.
The plan is to roll out development in 2009 through 2010. Infrastructure replacement will is slated for 2011.
Residents do not appreciate being asked to stand at the back of the line in the development of their own community, said Mark O’Brien, president of the Takhini North community association.
Homeowners are afraid plumbing replacement cost estimates given by the city, which have bounced from a high of $24,000 to the current $10,000 figure, will spike by 2011, he said Thursday.
“There was a lot of frustration about the phasing of the project.
“I am kind of suspicious that it’s being done that way to get the maximum revenue from the first two phases before dealing with the latent problems with our infrastructure at a later date,” said O’Brien.
“I kind of think it’s incumbent on the city to fix that problem first, budgetary considerations aside.”
The residents assert water and sewer systems under their homes are public property and should have been fixed before the entire neighbourhood was bought from Ottawa by numbered company 18001 Yukon Inc.
The company, owned by local lawyers Murray Leitch, Terrance Boylan and Tim Preston, bought the residences for $24,500 each in 1999.
That same year, Leitch, Boylan and Preston began selling the properties for about $90,000 without fixing the infrastructure.
By November 2000, some houses were selling for $120,000, according to records available at the Yukon land title office.
The 1998 Public Works Canada tender package recommended fixing the plumbing infrastructure before selling the properties, according to records from Ottawa.
The lawyers transferred responsibility for the infrastructure from 18001 Yukon Inc. to 18122 Yukon Inc., another company they owned, using an easement agreement — a legal instrument often used by utility companies to give them a right of access to private property to do work.
The second numbered company transferred responsibility for the water and sewer lines to homebuyers in its sales agreements.
Leitch and Preston have not been returning phone calls from the News.
The water system, which runs in series from house to house like an old string of Christmas lights, is going to give out soon, said O’Brien.
“It’s only a matter of time until something major happens,” he said. “There again, litigation may be the way that that is sorted out.
The city risks the neighbourhood blocking development, as has happened in other subdivisions.
Residents have considered going after the lawyers for replacement costs, but opted not to, he said.
“It’s a numbered company — you’re not going to get any funds — it’s kind of a hollow victory.”
“We may win a court case, or the city may win a court case, but the city’s got no interest in going after them either.
“They communicated that to us and they’d prefer to see us go after them.”
Residents feel the city could have forced the lawyers to replace the infrastructure, but neglected to do so, said O’Brien.
“There were bylaws in place where they could have forced a development agreement,” he said.
The city doesn’t agree plumbing work is a public utility.
It won’t pay for work on private property and is prepared, if necessary, to defend itself in court, said Mayor Bev Buckway on Thursday.
“We don’t agree with their position.
“We have a responsibility to other taxpayers in other areas of town to ensure there’s a level playing field,” she said.
“It’s the right of the citizens to launch an action like that if they feel it’s their recourse.”
The city has a very tight budget and could not afford to pay for the work even if it wanted to, she added.
The city is going to use the funding from the first two phases of new development in Takhini North to help fund the infrastructure replacement in the existing subdivision, said planning manger Mike Gau.
“That’s exactly what the phases are about.”
Even with over $2 million in federal and territorial funds as well as contributions from residents, the city is still out of pocket on the infrastructure replacement, he said.
And, even though it’s not what residents believe, the city had no authority to order Preston, Boylan and Leitch to replace the infrastructure when they bought the properties from Ottawa, said Gau.
“We can’t interfere in a private land sale, so there’s nothing we could have done at that time.”
“There weren’t any triggers for us to get involved,” he said.
Triggers include things like changing the zoning or applying for the subdivision of land, which the lawyers didn’t do, said Gau.
“We didn’t enter into a development agreement during a private-land sale between the federal government and the lawyer group.
“We had absolutely no jurisdiction to get involved,” said Gau.
The easement agreement drafted by the lawyers requiring residents to pay for the work was on residents’ land titles. This means anyone buying a home was informed of the work that would take place, added Gau.