A tie vote by Whitehorse city council has defeated a proposal to reduce parking at what is planned to be an affordable housing project at 410 Cook Street.
The vote has developers taking another look at how the project might proceed.
A 16-unit micro-housing project is planned for 410 Cook Street in downtown Whitehorse.
At Whitehorse city council’s March 22 meeting, a 3-3 vote by the six members of council present defeated a proposed zoning amendment to reduce the required 11 parking spots by three and eliminate a loading zone.
Councillors Samson Hartland, Dan Boyd and Laura Cabott voted against the rezoning with councillors Jocelyn Curteanu, Steve Roddick and Jan Stick voting in favour.
Anytime there is a tie vote by council, the motion in question is defeated. While there would normally be seven members of council present, Mayor Dan Curtis has stepped back from his position on council while he runs in the territorial election.
Coun. Jan Stick is serving as deputy mayor.
Energy North is planning to build the 16 micro-units and two commercial spaces. It was announced in 2020 the project had secured funding from the Yukon government for affordable housing.
In seeking the city zoning change, developers highlighted space constraints on the property and argued the project may not be as viable if the full 11 parking spaces are required.
During a public hearing on the proposal both support and opposition to the project was expressed. Supporters emphasized the dire need for more affordable housing in the city, while those opposed noted the impact such a development could have on parking in the area.
A similar discussion dominated council chambers ahead of the tie vote, with Hartland being the first to speak up, noting downtown parking is an issue the city continues to struggle with and this could further exacerbate that.
“I think the development is a good one, one that needs to proceed, but one that also needs to meet the litmus of our zoning bylaws,” he said.
Boyd argued that removing parking requirements could have unintended consequences for the city.
Cabott focused on the future of the area in her comments, pointing out that redevelopment is expected as the city gets set to dispose of the Municipal Services Building nearby on Fourth Avenue, and the former Salvation Army shelter building up for sale among other possibilities.
While parking may not be a major issue right now, Cabott suggested it would be premature to take away from parking requirements now, knowing the developments that could be coming.
“My concern is looking into the future and the future development in that area,” she said.
Cabott said she likes the proposed project itself as it aligns with the city’s goal of greater density downtown while also meeting a need for more affordable housing options, but she said could not support the parking reduction.
Curteanu, Roddick and Stick, meanwhile, focused on the need for housing in the city with Roddick suggesting the city has measures it can put in place to help manage parking should it become a problem.
“We’re talking about three parking spaces,” he said.
Curteanu voiced her agreement with Roddick, adding housing is a much harder problem to address.
“Housing is, in my opinion, a basic human right,” she said.
Stick pointed out that the housing issue is having a major impact on many in the city. Along with the challenge it creates for residents trying to find housing, it’s also affecting employers who are having trouble recruiting staff because of the cost and difficulty finding housing.
“It’s a huge issue right now,” she said, arguing that for her, housing is of a greater priority right now.
Energy North owner Kirk Potter said he and others involved in the development will be meeting in the next couple of days to weigh their options and look at how they might proceed. Had they known the vote was going to come during an election when the mayor has stepped back from his role and could result in a tie and ultimately defeat of the zoning change, they may have chosen to bring it forward at a different time, he said.
“It’s unfortunate,” Potter commented of the vote, adding developers wanted to build as many units as possible and provide affordable housing through the development.
With a number of other rental properties in town, Potter said he doesn’t expect all tenants of the building will have vehicles and thus didn’t see the parking change as a major issue. He said about half his current tenants have vehicles.
Options for the building could look at a different design, fewer units or other possibilities to be considered in the coming days.
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