Whitehorse has been growing out for years, but now it can grow up.
Building height restrictions in most of the downtown have been relaxed to allow for 25-metre buildings, up from the previous limit of 20 metres.
It’s all part of a massive Zoning Bylaw rewrite that got approval from city council Monday night.
With over 100 edits and 44 amendments, the $20,000 Zoning Bylaw rewrite has been a year in the making.
Many of the changes are focused on increasing density in the city, something that has long been called for in the city’s Official Community Plan, said Mike Gau, the manager of planning and development services.
While Coun. Dave Stockdale expressed some reservations about the impact larger buildings will have on the city others, like Coun. Kirk Cameron, are confident the change will be positive.
“I ran for council to advocate for increased density in the downtown core and I still believe that that’s a necessary step,” he said. “Seeing buildings in the 20 to 25 metre range doesn’t offend me, if anything, giving that option to developers I think gives them a little more flexibility to look at ways for them to maximize the potential in the downtown core.”
It also maximizes the revenue potential for the city, said Gau.
“With bigger buildings, it’s a bigger tax base,” he said.
Given the high cost of land and labour, larger building heights are something that developers and the business community have wanted to see for some time, said Coun. Ranj Pillai.
Although he is a supporter of higher density in the city, if the idea really takes off, Pillai wants to see a strategy put in place that would reserve space for things like convenience stores and parks.
In addition to relaxing the height restrictions in some areas, the changes to the Zoning Bylaw will now also allow for smaller lots and make building granny suites and lane-way housing easier.
Clear guidelines are set out in the bylaw for the construction of multi-family buildings in the Old Town neighborhood. That issue had been quite controversial, and “pitted neighbour against neighbour,” said Gau.
Under the new bylaw only four units will be allowed per lot in Old Town, and the maximum height was lowered to eight metres from 10.
“That was a really good one to have resolved,” said Gau. “Nobody got everything that they were asking for but everybody got something, and it’s resolved.”
Monday night also saw the passage of a revised Building and Plumbing Bylaw.
Those changes raise the energy efficiency requirements for new construction in the city.
However, the requirement that new homes come with a label detailing their energy efficiency was put off for a year so the city could build the capacity of inspectors qualified to make those assessments.
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