Tempers flare over hot springs development plans

Tempers flared and accusations flew during Brad Cathers' constituency meeting last night, as residents of his riding slammed doors and yelled at each other over ongoing development at the Takhini Hot Pools.

Tempers flared and accusations flew during Brad Cathers’ constituency meeting last night, as residents of his riding slammed doors and yelled at each other over ongoing development near the Takhini Hot Pools.

Around 35 people crammed into the community centre at the Hootalinqua Fire Hall for a meeting that was supposed to last from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but ended at 10 p.m.

On a night where multiple shouting matches took place across the room, most people in attendance were seeking answers on residential development plans at near Takhini Hot Pools.

The underlying issues are complicated, leading one resident to refer to the controversy as a “rat’s nest.”

Residents of the area accuse Garry Umbrich, president of Takhini Hot Springs Ltd., of failing to consult them over his development plans. In turn, Umbrich accuses residents of holding secret meetings and meddling in his affairs.

“It should not be up to area residents to decide where we build our homes, that is the prerogative of the property owner,” he said in a past e-mail.

Other residents blame the Yukon government’s lands services branch for failing to answer their questions, while some also point the finger at Cathers himself for not bringing any solutions to the table.

While few details are so far available, Umbrich plans on expanding the number of residences on the lots he currently owns.

He says the Takhini Hot Pools are currently made up of 10 lots, six of which have already been sold to individuals who have their own corporations. Because the lots are zoned commercial, land owners must build a business on the property before they apply to build a residence, he added.

Umbrich’s corporation has spaces for nine residences on the remaining four lots, although there are no definite plans to build them yet, he said.

According to the Hot Springs Road local area plan, up to two residences are allowed on a single lot. But the zoning also allows for the owners of adjoining lots to transfer this allowance, resulting in more than two residences on a single lot.

One point of contention has been whether Umbrich has the right to cluster a large number of residences on a single lot.

At last night’s meeting, several residents also pointed out that no public consultation had been held about the plans.

Umbrich’s wife, Carla Pitzel, was at the meeting and said there were only a handful of residences on the lots so far.

“My issue isn’t with the hot springs, it’s with the government, they got us into this mess,” one resident said. “It hasn’t responded to us properly.”

At times, Cathers seemed overwhelmed by the amount of yelling and arguing going on in the room. He sat quietly and waited for an opportunity to jump into the discussion.

He said he had been told that letters were sent out to residents about the development plans, and he would continue to meet with officials from the lands services branch. He has also offered a list of suggestions for improving communications between the branch and residents, to prevent this type of issue from happening in the future.

It included informing all property owners within one kilometre of an application for subdivision or rezoning by registered letter, and ensuring all similar applications are posted on the department’s website.

Last week, a petition signed by 11 residents of the area was signed and delivered to the legislative assembly. Umbrich said he was disappointed that residents chose “petition over dialogue.”

“None of the residents who signed the petition have ever approached us on the issues they are now bringing forward,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“We have maintained friendly relations with them, and have always felt we are approachable, and they have never come forward with any issues or concerns to us over the past six years or so.”

Umbrich claims that public consultation should only take place when the total number of residences exceeds the maximum of 20.

He said he’ll be organizing an open house to discuss his development plans with area residents.

A public meeting is also scheduled to deal with the corporation’s re-zoning application, he added.

“As such, area residents will have at least two opportunities to come out and learn about what is happening at Takhini Hot Springs,” he wrote.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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