The making of a lot shortage

It's common to blame Whitehorse's housing crisis on the lack of foresight by city planners. In 2006, the land development protocol was signed, giving the city full control over planning. Shortly after this, lots began to run out.

It’s common to blame Whitehorse’s housing crisis on the lack of foresight by city planners.

In 2006, the land development protocol was signed, giving the city full control over planning.

Shortly after this, lots began to run out.

But if you ask city planners Mike Gau and Mike Ellis, they’ll tell you the problems began with Porter Creek D.

To understand, a little history lesson is in order, going all the way back to 2005.

Facebook had just celebrated its first birthday.

Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans.

Paul Martin’s Liberals were in power.

And in Whitehorse, plans were afoot to develop the city’s newest subdivision – Porter Creek D.

It was a simpler time, with no evidence of the coming housing shortage.

“There was a big public disbelief that we needed the growth,” said Gau.

“Nobody believed us, or supported the idea of creating more lots while there were still lots in Copper Ridge.”

The 1996 census showed a decline in population in the city. In 2001, there was a small growth, but nothing substantial.

Besides, the Porter Creek Lower Bench – as Whistle Bend was once known – was set for development in 2015.

Everyone thought that this would be enough to meet any possible demand.

This did not bode well for Porter Creek D.

“We were looking for feedback and we got solid opposition, not advancing a concept at all,” said Gau.

“We were looking for ideas for improvements, and it was just, ‘No, no, no.’”

Before the land-development protocol was signed, the Yukon government was involved with the planning process as well.

Citizens opposed to the development complained to their ministers and the mayor and council.

There were three different government departments with a vested interest in Porter Creek D.

Community Services wanted to go ahead with the new development.

Education wanted the area saved for Yukon College endowment lands.

And Environment wanted the land protected for wildlife and recreation.

Because of indecision and all that opposition, the territorial government decided to nix the deal.

“The Yukon government pulled its support because of opposition that was expressed,” said Gau.

“At that point, we had a rough feasibility concept for as many as 400 units. And if that process hadn’t of stopped, we’d have those 400 units and likely avoided this housing shortage that we’re in.”

The Yukon government started a consultation process to come up with an accepted map for Porter Creek D – trying to please all three departments.

This was completed in 2007 and was added to the city’s official community plan.

In the meantime, the city began work on Whistle Bend, which should be completed in 2013.

“We shifted gears and focused on Whistle Bend,” said Gau.

“We moved forward as fast as we could, in terms of providing other opportunities for land development.”

But it wasn’t fast enough.

All of the lots in Copper Ridge were developed in 2008.

Then, in 2010, Whitehorse’s supply dried up.

“In fact, the last few years we had a two or three years worth of supply that would have been a one-year supply in 1998, that was gone in one year,” said Gau.

“The banking of lots was gobbled up in just a few short years, so that caught us behind the eight ball too.”

The city responded with the Ingram subdivision, Takhini North, Stan McCowan and other infill projects,” said Gau.

“But they’re much smaller in scale compared to what Porter Creek D was supposed to produce.”

Porter Creek D is still in the works.

Whitehorse city council will decide this fall about what to do about the development.

Land-development protocol

There were two reasons why the land-development protocol was signed back in 2006, giving all planning powers to the city.

It made it a lot easier on the public, dealing with just one governmental body.

And it also saved a lot of wasted time and money.

With the country residential subdivision Whitehorse Copper, council made some last-minute changes to the road network before it gave its final approval.

But the Yukon government had already spent around $1 million in design, planning and engineering costs, said Gau.

Much of this had to be reworked because of council’s changes.

“The Yukon government wanted more certainty as the developer,” said Gau.

“And city council clearly wanted more control.”

Now, the Yukon government waits until each development receives Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommendations and the decision document for the development.

Then it takes over the project and begins the actual developing.

“It’s better for the public too,” said Ellis.

“In the Whitehorse Copper project, the public was bouncing between two political bodies and they didn’t know where to go. So this is just for clarity in some degree and just to make the process go faster.

“It’s just better for everyone.”

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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