City of Whitehorse staff are recommending a long list of policy changes to the proposed Official Community Plan (OCP) before council votes on second reading of the document.
Planning and sustainability manager Mélodie Simard brought forward the recommendation at council’s Oct. 3 meeting, presenting a report that highlighted the proposals and detailed the input of a public hearing held in September.
The public hearing saw 19 people speak directly to council and another 97 make written submissions on the proposed plan, which serves as an overall guide to planning in the city. In this case, the new OCP would set the vision for the city to 2040.
Through the public hearing a long list of concerns came forward including the potential for a road through the McIntyre Creek area, building height limits, impacts of the plan on specific neighbourhoods along with calls for the city to put greater emphasis on addressing climate change, deal with ongoing housing issues and to take the designation for Stevens Quarry off the table.
There was also support expressed for a number of measures set out in the proposed OCP, at times in direct contradiction with the concerns brought up. For example, while a number opposed quarrying in the Stevens area, others viewed it as important for the city’s economy. And while some had concerns around building height limits increasing, others saw it an an opportunity to densify.
Many of the potential concepts in the OCP would require further studies, zoning amendments and other changes before the possibilities could come to fruition, the city has noted.
In her 24-page public hearing report, Simard outlined the changes proposed before second reading.
The potential for Stevens Quarry is among the list of items where some mitigation measures are recommended, but it stops short of removing the quarry designation.
Many residents living in the north end of the city argued against the Stevens area for quarry development. The situation has come up three times since the 1990s. They urged the city to zone the area as environmental protection, citing the impact quarry development — and the noise and dust that could come from it — could have on area agriculture, quality of life and the forested areas many residents enjoy, in particular the nearby Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest.
In addition, an online petition has been launched at change.org calling on the city to change the draft OCP so that a quarry could not be developed there. As of Sept. 4, more than 800 names were attached.
However, the city is not contemplating taking the possibility off the table entirely. Rather, a number of policy changes are recommended aimed at mitigating the impacts of a quarry.
They would include requiring mitigation measures to address traffic, dust, noise, wildlife impacts as well as impacts to the road system. In particular for the Stevens area, a quarry phasing plan would be required before development would be approved.
The minimum 300-metre buffer from residential areas was found to be within the typical range of buffers municipalities across Canada require and therefore no changes to that buffer are recommended, Simard said.
Coun. Ted Laking voiced his support for removing the quarry designation from the OCP, arguing council heard “loud and clear” from the public.
Despite councillors making note of the online petition, city manager Jeff O’Farrell reminded members that under council procedures bylaw information received after a public hearing can’t be consider, and thus the petition cannot be factored into council’s decision.
Other council members highlighted the need for gravel in developments as the city grows, pointing out this is the major gravel source available to the city and important for developments in the north part of town.
As Mayor Laura Cabott pointed out, hauling gravel from the south end of town to the north end is expensive and has an impact on the affordability of developments.
Other policy revisions are proposed to address concerns around a potential road through the McIntyre Creek area with assessments outlined in the OCP that would be done to consider a transportation corridor there, despite calls from the public not to move in that direction.
The policy change would incorporate a minimum 125 metre setback from the creek in an effort to preserve existing wildlife corridors, although there could be some exceptions.
As stated in the proposed revisions: “Exceptions will be considered for low-impact trails, public utility infrastructure and a potential transportation corridor creek crossing, subject to municipal and other approvals.”
Some councillors argued for other measures to deal with traffic like expanding Mountain View Drive, improved active transportation infrastructure and transit, moving forward with park planning before studies are done to consider a road and making sure the transportation master plan is completed. Mayor Laura Cabott emphasized the proposed OCP is simply looking at doing the studies to determine whether a road should or shouldn’t go through the area.
As she pointed out, it will not be the current council that decides whether a road will go through the McIntyre Creek area. That will be a decision for a future council based on the information coming from the proposed assessments set out in the OCP, if it is adopted.
Building height limits
Simard pointed out many wanted to see buildings in the riverfront area downtown remain smaller scale with lower height limits that would not obstruct view corridors to the Yukon River.
Rather than setting out building height limits in the OCP, a proposed change would outline a more general policy for buildings to “generally be small scale.
“Larger buildings may be considered to promote the concentration of culture and tourism buildings within this designation.”
Specific height limits would come forward in the zoning bylaw.
A lengthy council discussion focused on height limits with suggestions on specific height limits for the downtown core and riverfront ranging from 25 metres to more than 30 metres depending on the area of the downtown.
Other changes in response to public feedback would see the city designate one area that had been identified to be studied for future residential growth off Mountain View Drive designated as green space rather than for residential growth. Two other areas would remain in place for residential growth.
During the public hearing, council heard from a number of Porter Creek residents who highlighted the area as a valued recreational space with a number of trails throughout.
While Coun. Ted Laking suggested taking another of the sites off the table, given the impact growth is having on traffic coming out of Porter Creek and Whistle Bend, others pointed out the proposed areas come from an earlier decision not to pursue housing in the McIntyre Creek area and the city needs space for residential growth.
“We need to have some parcels available,” Cabott said, pointing out that identifying an area for growth does not mean it will be developed soon as there are many steps ahead of development actually being approved.
Cabott also pointed to work underway on the transportation management plan, suggesting that will help deal with traffic, as could changes to transit and the city’s bicycle network plan.
On the housing front, Simard highlighted the addition of a new policy that would support affordable residential development through bylaws, policies, partnerships, programs and incentives. Affordable housing would also be added as a definition in the OCP’s glossary.
Coun. Michelle Friesen voiced her support for more work looking at regulations or monitoring of short-term accomodations while Coun. Dan Boyd highlighted concerns around the language of the new policy that could ultimately be seen to require an incentive program by the city into the future. Boyd said he would rather see it worded so that the city may have such programs when they are needed, as is the case now.
Climate change and the environment
In looking to address climate change, among other efforts, the OCP would outline the city’s intent to achieve or even surpass greenhouse gas emission reduction targets outlined in the city’s sustainability plan. Those targets may be updated as well as revisions made to other policies emphasizing the city’s plans to address the impacts of climate change.
A long list of housekeeping changes are also detailed that alter wording for clarity, grammar and minor corrections.
Council will vote on second reading at its Oct. 11 meeting. If that is approved, a ministerial review would take place with up to 45 days for that to happen.
Provided the new plan makes its way through the review, third reading and adoption would then come forward for a vote by council on Dec. 12.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com