Townhouses exempt from Hillcrest height restriction

Kirn Dhillon's contentious plans to demolish several of Hillcrest's aging Steelox buildings and build townhouses in their place looks set to clear Whitehorse city council.

Kirn Dhillon’s contentious plans to demolish several of Hillcrest’s aging Steelox buildings and build townhouses in their place looks set to clear Whitehorse city council.

A bylaw to restrict the height of buildings in the neighbourhood to eight metres passed first reading on Monday night. But it exempts Dhillon’s four properties.

Dhillon first applied to build townhouses last fall. It’s been a highly emotional process, he said after Monday’s council meeting. Neighbours are fighting over mere inches and are making a mountain out of a molehole, he said.

Dhillon wants to build townhouses that are just under nine metres. But that’s too high, neighbours say. Last month, the Hillcrest Community Association asked the height of all buildings in the neighbourhood to be restricted to eight metres, to prevent sunlight from being blocked.

Buildings in Hillcrest can be as tall as 10 metres, but most are only five.

But the neighbourhood needs change. Many of the aging single-storey buildings need a lot of repairs.

“Make no mistake about it, the Steelox buildings have reached their useful life,” Dhillon told council.

They’re also expensive to heat. Dhillon wants to use solar panels to heat the units. To do that, he needs space.

An eight-metre limit would make it difficult for him to do this, he said.

He urged city council to exempt his properties from the restriction.

City council could have restricted the height last fall, he said. And he is concerned residents will ask for more changes.

“Last fall, the prime issue was density. Today it’s going to be height, and tomorrow I fear that it’s going to be something else,” he told council.

The bylaw’s first reading was postponed for two weeks so Dhillon and the neighbours could come up with a compromise. Since then, Dhillon has lowered the buildings’ height.

And a nine-metre limit is a fair compromise, said Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu.

“Nobody comes out of here a pure winner. Everybody had to give in a little bit,” she told council. “I just think that in this situation, this really is the best we could do.”

But not everyone agrees.

Jim Gilpin is planning to be at council next week to show his opposition to the decision. Most owners want all the buildings in the area restricted to eight metres. He conducted a survey of owners in early March.

The city’s planning department needs to consult with the community more before approving these spot-zoning changes, Gilpin said after Monday’s meeting.

“In this case, the planning department, rightly or wrongly, intentionally or not, ended up being an advocate for the developer. Not an advocate for the community,” said Gilpin.

The decision to change the zoning of Dhillon’s properties should have been deferred until after last October’s municipal election, he said. When the last council approved the change to Dhillon’s properties, it also set aside funds to make a neighbourhood plan for Hillcrest. That process has just started.

Some councillors shared his concerns.

“If you vote for this, this will be your legacy,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale. “You’ll be able to see this edifice sticking up there above those Steelox areas for the rest of your term, so I assure you, you don’t want to do this. Put the height at eight metres.”

Coun. Betty Irwin agreed.

Most of the residents clearly want an eight-metre restriction, she said.

“If there should be a winner, I think it should be the Hillcrest Community Association that should come out ahead on this one. They live there. This is their community, and they are in the process of a planning and visioning process,” she told council.

She and Coun. Stockdale were the only two to vote against the amended bylaw.

There will be a public hearing on the bylaw on May 13. It could pass as early as May 27. In the meantime, there will be no permits considered for buildings higher than eight metres in the neighbourhood, or higher than nine metres for Dhillon’s properties, said Mike Gau, director of planning.

He plans to get working on his plans as soon as possible.

And he wants to work with the community.

“If they value the Steelox buildings as heritage buildings, I’ll give one to Mr. Gilpin for free if he takes it off-site,” said Dhillon, adding Gilpin could use it as a cabin if he wants.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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