The house that Wienecke built

'Would you move with a view like this?" Edith Wienecke asked the question while jerking her thumb over her shoulder to the windowed wall at her back. It was a rhetorical question. The soon-to-be 86-year-old knows how remarkable the view from her living room is. Wienecke's been enjoying the place, which is tucked into the clay cliffs on the south end of Whitehorse...

‘Would you move with a view like this?”

Edith Wienecke asked the question while jerking her thumb over her shoulder to the windowed wall at her back.

It was a rhetorical question.

The soon-to-be 86-year-old knows how remarkable the view from her living room is.

Wienecke’s been enjoying the place, which is tucked into the clay cliffs on the south end of Whitehorse, since she and her husband Eric built it after their wedding over 50 years ago.

At that time, the German couple took a ship to Montreal and then drove their Mercedez-Benz to Whitehorse.

After a few, short months at the Whitehorse Inn, Wienecke’s late husband paid the city a mandatory $10 fee and started clearing the trees on what is now Drury Street.

Technically, White Pass owned the land, but there were already people living in the area and the company refused to sell to only one person, said Wienecke.

“Everybody was just taking the land, so we started building,” she said, her dainty lips forming a grin. “And I learned how to use a nail and a hammer.”

Back then there were no building inspectors running around – they weren’t needed because people would not invest their life’s savings into a spot that was not safe, she said.

But now, half a decade later, the city’s not so sure about the safety of Wienecke’s house.

Much of the cliff-top neighbourhood around Wienecke’s home has been bulldozed, the residents bought off and relocated.

“As I understand it, nobody was actually expropriated,” said Robert Fendrick, director of administrative services with the city.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the city commissioned studies that divided the area into zones, identifying homes in immediate danger of sloughing.

“The most critical ones were asked to evacuate and they were paid as if they were expropriated,” he said.

While they were given little option it never came to legal expropriation, said Fendrick.

At the time, the Wienecke’s home was not in the most dangerous zone.

And Wienecke doesn’t remember any physically noticeable opposition or RCMP force needed when people started moving out, she said.

If there was resistance, the city would offer an extra couple thousand dollars, which was a lot at that time, she added.

“It’s certainly a negative history of our city,” said Tamara Goeppel, Wienecke’s daughter, noting the lack of proper communication and use of intimidation at the time.

People found out they were in danger and had to move through a radio report. And when the authorities knocked on their doors, they rarely sought legal proof, said Goeppel.

But her father stood his ground, as did a few others.

As time went on, some residents passed away and their life-estate leases expired, returning the land to the city.

Others eventually took the buyout and moved on.

After each agreement, the home was bulldozed.

But the Wieneckes stayed put.

Eventually the city rezoned the area, from “downtown residential,” to “environmental protection.”

This change rendered the Wienecke’s home virtually worthless, in terms of market value.

“I cannot do anything with this house,” said Wienecke of the rezoning. “If this house burns down I cannot build another one, I would lose everything. I can’t even build a house outside for him,” she said, pointing to “Buddy,” her 10-year-old blue heeler curled up at her feet.

The rezoning was a method to stop further use of the land for housing, Fendrick said. The title can still be bought in cash, but no bank will back a home on land zoned “environmental protection,” he said.

Wienecke, with help from her daughter, is asking Whitehorse to consider changing the zoning back.

They have paid for their own study that said, with some mitigation techniques and because no other development has been happening on this land, the house is considered safe.

But Wienecke never doubted it.

“It’s been 50 years and there’s no change,” she said. “If I was in danger, if the hill would come down, then we would have no airport and they would have not built the roads here, beside the river, where it would come down.”

Apart from the unstable cliff at the back of her house, the location is perfect.

“It’s downtown, but not,” she said, explaining that she can’t hear a sound from Robert Service Way that winds along the riverbank beneath her.

And her view isn’t disrupted by the road either. Instead, your eyes see from the edge of the Yukon River to the top of Grey Mountain.

“Would you move with a view like this?” she said again. “Not for a million dollars.”

City council will decide on whether to consider rezoning the Weinecke’s home on Monday.

As well, city administration has begun planning an entire south-end community charette to take place this year.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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