The second public hearing on the proposed next Official Community Plan was held at council’s Nov. 28 meeting. (Screen shot/City of Whitehorse)

The second public hearing on the proposed next Official Community Plan was held at council’s Nov. 28 meeting. (Screen shot/City of Whitehorse)

Stevens area dominates public hearing discussion

Residents call on council not to reverse quarry decision

The Stevens area of Whitehorse dominated discussion during Whitehorse city council’s Nov. 28 public hearing on the proposed Official Community Plan (OCP) with more than half a dozen residents appearing to address council about the area in the north end of the city.

Another five speaking out on a variety of other matters in the OCP rounded out the discussion of 12 who addressed council during the hearing. A further 46 written submissions also came in with 25 stating support for the plan and the remaining 21 highlighting opposition or concerns with the document.

The plan acts as a guide to city planning with the proposed OCP setting the vision for Whitehorse to 2040.

Most who spoke about the Stevens area thanked the city for removing the quarry designation from an earlier version of the document in favour of a future planning designation, imploring council members to stick with the decision as the matter moves to the final readings of the bylaw.

Removing the quarry designation is the “right thing to do”, Hidden Valley resident Liz Reichenbach said.

“Now I ask council not to reverse the decision,” she said.

She and others highlighted the area as pristine with a number of environmental and recreational benefits. A quarry, many said, would also have negative impact on the growing agriculture operations nearby.

Council also heard from the Yukon Contractors Association, with president Murray Arsenault acknowledging himself as “probably the least popular person in the room” and putting forward the association’s position it does not support removing the quarry status given the need for a future gravel supply as current quarries near the end of their resources. He was also joined by representatives of the Whitehorse and Yukon Chamber of Commerce, showing support, inside council chambers.

“While I respect the concerns of locals who live close to the area, the challenges that people perceive may be involved with the development of a gravel pit are mitigatable,” he said, pointing out a number of measures that can be taken to address dust and noise concerns.

One delegate later countered that mitigation would not be enough to address the impact a quarry could have on their existing health issues including a lung condition and migraine headaches.

The opportunity to directly address council on the OCP marked the second public hearing about it, after city council approved major changes following the first hearing, including the removal of the quarry designation for the Stevens area.

Whenever there are substantial changes made to a proposal following a public hearing, a second hearing is required ahead of the final two readings to approve it. In the case of the OCP, a ministerial review at the territorial level must also be done between second and third reading.

Among the other changes made were increases to some building height limits, an added study to be done on short-term rental accommodations, the removal of a potential development near Tamarack Drive, more planning to address traffic between Porter Creek/Whistle Bend and the downtown, and the removal of a provision to study the possibility of a road through the McIntyre Creek area.

While much of the focus of the hearing was on the Stevens area, others argued against increased building heights, brought up issues with the potential study about short-term rentals and outlined potential for affordable housing in what is outlined in the proposed OCP as the south growth area south of Copper Ridge.

Ron Veale began his presentation by describing himself as a “low-rise” guy, arguing that moving to height limits (proposed in the OCP to 30 metres in some sections of the downtown) that allow for high rise buildings “is totally unnecessary”.

Moving beyond a height of six or seven stories would be a departure from the past for the city, which claims to be “the wilderness city”, he said. He went on to point to a number of potential sites identified for growth that he argued could accommodate the housing needed in the city. Among them was future areas in Whistle Bend, the north and south growth areas and the area between Hillcrest and Valleyview.

Veale also pointed to the difficulty in reading the proposed OCP, suggesting the city should release a version that presents the concepts in “plain language”.

“I want to tell you how hard it is to read that,” he said. “You have to spend more than a day or two reading that document and figuring out what’s going on in the process.”

While the former chief justice of the Yukon Supreme Court acknowledged the need for a legal document, he suggested to the city for residents that “surely you can come up with a plain language document”.

Council also heard from another delegate arguing against high-rise buildings, pointing out they block the sun, impact views and more. He encouraged council not to allow higher building limits and look at what it can do to make Whitehorse a more beautiful city.

Meanwhile, Ben Pereira, president and CEO of Neighbourly North (a local alternative to Airbnb in short-term accommodations) noted benefits of short-term rentals in arguing against a study on the topic.

He pointed out short-term rentals are used in a number of ways, providing short-term emergency housing for families who need that through an agreement with the Council of Yukon First Nations; as well as staff residences for private business, the medical community and others; and for residents in the communities coming into Whitehorse for medical appointments and other short-term stays.

After stating the benefits of short-term rentals, he painted a grim picture of what he said might come if the city moved forward to study and perhaps adopt regulations in the future.

“Now, if you still feel motivated to push ahead and spend millions on consultants, studies, regulations and enforcement — because this cannot happen at zero cost to the taxpayer — go ahead,” he said.

“But don’t be surprised when lodging costs skyrocket; rents continue to go up; it becomes harder to relocate new families to the territory; infrastructure projects get fewer bids and higher bids from out-of-territory contractors; every Yukoner’s health care suffers and vulnerable children sleep in shabby bedbug infested hotel rooms while they try to go to school.”

Meanwhile, Sean O’Donnell also put forth vision of the future — this one a little brighter — as he outlined plans on behalf of the owners of the Lobird Estates trailer park.

He noted the owners were pleased to see the south growth area identified in the OCP as they plan to develop in that area more than 70 acres over the next 10 years to build Phases two to four of Lobird, which could see up to 350 new mobile and modular homes added to the new space. A play park and possibly a seniors section are also being looked at as planning continues.

“We want to help everybody have a chance to own a home,” O’Donnell said as he outlined the standards mobile and modular homes are now built do, including some with arctic packages featuring triple-pane windows, high insulation standards and more.

The project will hinge on whether it can tie into city infrastructure, which is not yet available there. Before development can begin, he said, it’s important to know whether the city is willing to run water and sewer services into the new area.

“Phase two and three, and four in Lobird Estates will be a beautiful community with breathtaking views, relaxing hiking trails, bus services, and very close to downtown,” he said. “It’s a great place for a balance of living. We would like to provide affordable housing which would be made possible if we had access to municipal water and sewer services extended to Lobird.”

A report on the public hearing will come forward ahead of second reading. If that is approved, the document to go through a 45-day territorial ministerial review process ahead of third reading.

Provided there are no delays with those processes, it’s anticipated a new OCP could be adopted in March 2023.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com