By Rhiannon Russell
A decades-old Whitehorse car dealership will be moving from its downtown location next year, opening up a large piece of desirable real estate.
Mic Mac Toyota, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Steele Street, has resided at that site since it opened in 1970. It will bemoving to a bigger location on Range Road. The property, which extends from Steele Street to Main Street — about 30,000 square feet in all — is for sale for $2.95 million.
Co-owner Holly Wilcox said Mic Mac has outgrown its current location.
“We don’t have the ability to expand to what we would like to have to offer customers,” she said. “One of the biggest things we struggle with here is parking. We don’t have enough.”
At its new facility next to Tait Trailers, the property comprises 8.5 acres, or more than 370,000 square feet — about a 12-fold increase.
Wilcox’s father purchased the dealership in 1974 with a partner. It’s been in her family since. When she was growing up, she remembers that “it was a pretty quiet corner.” She recalls some old homes in the area, as well as grass and dirt lots. “I remember lots of dirt roads that are paved over now.”
In the early 1990s, her parents bought the property next door, where the detail shop now sits. And for several years, they owned the land where the 506 All Day Grill is located now, on Main Street. They thought they might be able to expand in the existing location, but zoning changes complicated things.
The land is zoned core commercial, which is described by the city’s zoning bylaw as “core commercial activity that is vibrant and pedestrian-oriented with a mix of commercial, residential and institutional uses.” Restaurants, shops, hostels, health services, offices, and parks are all allowed under this designation. Residential use is allowed only above the ground floor.
Under the current bylaw, car dealerships, classified as “vehicle sales and service,” are allowed in a few different zones. Core commercial isn’t one of them.
The territory’s Municipal Act allows for uses of land permitted under previous bylaws, though there are restrictions on what owners can do to improve existing structures, called “non-conforming buildings.”
They can’t be enlarged or structurally altered, though repairs and maintenance are allowed. For example, new siding and minor interior renovations would be permitted, while a new roof wouldn’t be.
“It’s a mechanism to essentially make change over time,” said Kinden Kosick, acting manager of the city’s planning sustainability department.
There’s little space downtown that remains open for development, so it must be used as efficiently as possible, he said.
“We want people to come downtown and be able to hit all the shops and all the local retail that are better-suited for people walking by them and looking at them.”
It’s something Wilcox acknowledges: “In downtown Whitehorse, there’s not a lot available, especially in our location right at the end of Main Street. It’s a pretty desirable spot.”
Since the city completed its last Official Community Plan in 2010, it’s been a priority to bring retail services and offices to the core, Kosick said.
“Larger, more land-intensive uses like car dealerships, with lots of outdoor storage, maybe aren’t as appropriate in our downtown core as they are, say, in our commercial service by Walmart or Superstore, or along the highway,” he said.
Since the Gold Rush, Whitehorse has been an industrial city, Kosick added, citing the U.S. Army’s presence here when the Alaska Highway was built, the mining and rail history, and the unloading of steamboats along the Yukon River.
As Whitehorse has grown, the need for housing, retail, and other services has grown, pushing industry out of the downtown core. “It’s revitalization like you see in cities everywhere,” Kosick said.
Wilcox has noticed the change over the years. “It’s definitely busier, more traffic. Just more people. We’re definitely more fancy now.”
With the apartments and townhouses now in the area, the once-quiet end of Main Street is no longer.
“As much as we are sad to leave the downtown core, we’re really excited to be getting into our brand-new facility,” Wilcox said. “And we’re excited for our customers because we know that they’ve been frustrated with our parking situation.”
The dealership’s move is happening as the city works on a new plan for both the downtown core and Marwell. It hosted two events earlier this year, asking people to weigh in on what they want the neighbourhoods to look like. The last downtown plan was completed in 2007.
“A lot has changed in those 10 years,” said city planner Ben Campbell. “It’s worth re-examining those two areas and seeing if we’re on track, what can be changed, what we can do to ensure those two areas remain vital and successful.”
The city is planning another consultation event in the fall, and is also welcoming feedback on the plans at: whitehorse.ca/downtown and whitehorse.ca/marwell.
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