Whistle Bend sports complex spurs more questions than answers

Whitehorse city council says it doesn't want to be left on the hook for the operational costs of an $8 million sports facility in Whistle Bend.

Whitehorse city council says it doesn’t want to be left on the hook for the operational costs of an $8 million sports facility in Whistle Bend.

It was just one of several concerns raised at Monday evening’s committee meeting, where council began examining a proposed zoning amendment that would allow the construction of the outdoor sports complex.

Announced by the territorial government in April 2014, the 7.17-hectare facility would feature three soccer fields, a rubber track, an office building, various courts and bleachers.

A three-metre high fence would be built around the perimeter of the facility. It’s unknown whether a future school adjacent to the complex would have access to the facility, as users would have to pay a membership fee to access the complex.

It would be leased to the Yukon Outdoor Sports Complex Association (YOSCA), which would manage day-to-day operations of the facility.

Two weeks ago, the Yukon government issued a request for proposals for phase one of the project, which could see construction begin this summer.

According to a proposal submitted by Associated Engineering, the cost to operate two fields and one track is estimated at $50,778 per year.

The government has maintained that operation and maintenance costs for the complex would be generated from user groups and rental income from the building.

Council, however, would have to give its approval to rezone the land from residential to parks and recreation.

And despite the assurances from the government and the association, it’s a project that is moving along far too quickly, said Mayor Dan Curtis.

“There are a lot of business plans put forward and if they’re not done with due diligence, it falls back into the municipal government’s lap,” he said.

“We have a tremendous amount of knowledge in running recreational facilities and we’re concerned that a brand new association is getting an $8 million complex handed to them to manage.”

Referring to the Municipal Act, Curtis said council has two ways of weighing in on the discussion: necessity and zoning.

“Does Whitehorse really need a facility like this right now?” Curtis asked rhetorically.

“And if Yukon government is giving assurances it will take care of operation and maintenance of the facility, for how long?”

Questions were raised about the potential cost of having to replace the fields in 20 or 25 years, which could cost millions.

But the delegate speaking to council on Monday, Yukon Soccer Association’s Tony Gaw, didn’t have the answer, Curtis said.

In a letter sent to council on Feb. 2, Community Services Minister Currie Dixon wrote that issuing the request for proposals “wasn’t intended to put additional pressure on the City or presume a particular outcome for the rezoning request.”

He said the government was taking this step because it had to act quickly if it wanted to complete certain construction this upcoming building season.

“That said, as the project is conceptualized there are no (operations and maintenance) expectations on the City beyond what might normally be done for other recreation or community groups,” he wrote.

If built, the sports complex would eliminate eight single family lots and two multiple family lots, which would have a financial impact of $22,400 annually on the city.

Liz Hanson attended Monday’s meeting in her capacity as MLA for Whitehorse Centre.

She said she was taken aback by what the government is presenting as a “fait accompli.”

“I really do think council was genuine in its surprise to all this,” she said.

“We can see the squeeze play the city’s been placed in by this government on everything from diversion credits for recycling to Mt. Sima. There has been no public consultation on this, and it’s sort of like the government telling the city what do to.

“Is the minister saying that all societies on YTG land can be exempted of taxes and fee? Why don’t they have a public meeting and talk about how they intend to answer the questions raised by the civic government?”

Curtis said 21 questions in total had been put forward to administration, so it could present them to the government.

“I would have preferred that YTG had met with us and asked what we felt were the needs of the citizens of Whitehorse instead of arbitrarily deciding that a sports complex would be most appropriate use of recreation,” he said.

First reading of the rezoning bylaw is scheduled for Feb. 23, and a public hearing will be held on March 23.

Second and third reading of the bylaw is scheduled for April 13.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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