The construction site for the expansion of the Takhini Hot Springs on July 2. The company will resume building its resort after a delay of more than a year. (Kallan Lyons/Yukon News)

Takhini Hot Springs condo project gets approval

‘I’ve never seen provisions quite like the ones that were introduced through the local area planning process’

Takhini Hot Springs Ltd. will resume building a new resort after an almost 16-month delay, according to the company’s president Garry Umbrich.

Umbrich received confirmation from the Yukon government cabinet on June 27 that his rezoning application has been granted. The news came on the same day Umbrich issued a press release that said cabinet’s inaction was causing construction delays and headaches.

“We’re super happy that they responded very quickly to our press release stating this is (taking) too long,” said Umbrich.

Umbrich wrote a letter to Premier Sandy Silver in April asking about the government’s decision to rezone for a housing development. The premier responded that it takes four to 18 months to review a zoning amendment.

“I got an e-mail advising me that there was some sort of press release … and almost simultaneously I got the notification that the zoning had been approved,” said Jerome McIntyre, director of land planning with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

“One was not influenced by the other.”

The amendment includes approval to build condominiums. Umbrich said the condo sales will help finance the completion of the resort’s pool.

Umbrich signed a development agreement with the government in 2012 to subdivide the four large lots at the hot springs into 10. The project was put on hold following two court cases where local residents sued the government over what they called a lack of consultation.

The Yukon government and residents of the Takhini Hot Springs Road area developed a land-use plan in the early 2000s, which included a special provision for a co-housing arrangement. The provision allows owners with adjacent lots to consolidate more than two homes on a single lot, but this is subject to three things: community consultation, rezoning and site plan approval.

“I’ve never seen provisions quite like the ones that were introduced through the local area planning process,” said McIntyre.

The current zoning is for mixed use and tourism accommodation. Permitted uses for development include a resort, motel or hotel, restaurants and a limited number of residential units.

Umbrich was previously approved to build nine homes on one lot. The Hot Springs Road Development Area Resident Association said they weren’t properly consulted and filed a lawsuit against the government, which was upheld by the Yukon Supreme Court in 2017.

“We wanted to protect our forest, by not spreading the development out all over the property (by) putting two houses on every property,” said Umbrich.

Alison Reid, one of the original investors in the Takhini Hot Springs, said in an interview before the government’s decision was made public, that the decisions which lead to the original lawsuit seemed to be happening behind the scenes.

“My impression was … they subdivided and that was part of what happened without public consultation,” she said.

“That was the concern I think of other people as well, that it wasn’t anticipated that there’d be more than eight dwellings consolidated, or that the zoning would change.”

A community consultation took place in June 2017. McIntyre said concerns from residents include the impact on traffic, wildlife and the proximity of the housing to neighbouring lots.

Umbrich now has permission to build on all 10 parcels of land. Once he receives development permits, Umbrich will start building the nine detached homes on one of those parcels where hewill also build up to three pools, half a dozen vacation cabins and a mid-sized lodge for tourists.

“We’re looking at somewhere around 60 rooms … we really don’t know,” he said.

Construction won’t begin until the 30-day appeal process is over and a site plan has been shared with the public. The nine houses are expected to be built by next spring, the pools by 2020, and the lodge and cabins after that.

“We’ll be … holding a public meeting, just because we know that this is an issue that’s very contentious,” said McIntyre.

“So we would go a little beyond what our normal consultation would be on the site plans.”

Prior to the news that the construction is going ahead, Reid said she wants better consultation.

“If that kind of consultation is followed, then whatever the outcome out of that is, I would be satisfied.”

Contact Kallan Lyons at kallan.lyons@yukon-news.com

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