Property lots at 1181 and 1191 Front St. Plans to build a mixed-use development and a hotel in these lots were passed by city council on Sept. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse City Council passes height amendments for waterfront development

The development comes after recent recommendations made by city planners

Plans for a mixed-use development and a hotel along Whitehorse’s waterfront passed city council on Sept. 24 to applause.

“I think this moment in time is going to stand out in 20 years when we look back and say this was the pinnacle move that really opened up development for our self-governing First Nations,” said Mayor Dan Curtis, who appeared visibly emotional at times during council, which was nearly packed.

The company behind the development, River’s Edge Partnership Ltd., is majority-owned by the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

Councillors Samson Hartland and Betty Irwin voted against the amendments that were pitched to see the project, located at 1181 and 1191 Front St., green-lit. Curtis, Councillors Dan Boyd and Roslyn Woodcock were in favour. Councillor Jocelyn Curteanu was recused due to a conflict of interest. Councillor Rob Fendrick was not at the meeting.

City planners had recommended that portions of buildings taller than 12.5 metres be set back by at least 7.6 metres from the side of the property next to the Yukon River. The other recommendation involves making at least 50 per cent of the gross floor area a hotel if the building is taller than 15 metres.

It was also recommended that 1181 Front St. has a maximum height of 20 metres and 1191 Front St. has a height limit of 15 metres.

Those amendments were made before the bill passed third reading.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill was present at council. Speaking to reporters afterwards, she said she was “really upset with the way a couple of councillors have portrayed our people and our history on the waterfront.”

In terms of what’s next, Bill said, to hoots and claps, “Well, we build a hotel.”

Irwin and Hartland had argued that established city rules should be followed.

“(I)t would be saying that the city is encouraging the privatization of the waterfront of what should be shared community resource and, instead, letting it become a playground for well-heeled private enterprise,” Irwin said.

“I believe that people should have some assurance that the rules will be observed, and that they can have confidence that the rules and laws will be applied fairly.”

Irwin said the proposed buildings are “too tall for the area,” and that the company assumes the rules will be changed in its favour.

“You have to ask the question as to who(m) these sleek, these tall, these box buildings will benefit and who will lose in the long run,” she said.

Hartland said that while he supports the project “in principle,” noting the development could be a positive for things like tourism and jobs, he also wants to uphold the process of the Official Community Plan.

“Citizens and developers expect and deserve certainty with the city’s approach to planning and development. My concern is that this difficult decision has the potential to create a domino effect of height relaxations throughout the rest of downtown and I think that’s feeding into a lot of people’s fears in the community,” he said.

At a public hearing, 16 written submissions were received. Nine expressed support and seven were opposed to the amendment. Two delegations expressed support for the application.

Those with concerns cited impacts to views, incompatibility of the proposal with waterfront planning documents and negative impacts to waterfront amenities.

Support came from those who felt the project’s design is considerate of view corridors, that it will encourage a First Nations presence on the waterfront, will enhance parking and improve tourist accommodations, and bring community, economic and tourism benefits.

“I have no problem supporting this whole-heartedly,” Curtis said.

“We haven’t had a hotel built in this community in 30 years,” he said. “Quite frankly, it pisses me off to hear we’re blocking it (the Yukon River) off with one building we need so desperately” even with the setbacks included in the amendments.

“Our First Nations are a higher level government than municipal governments … Not to give them the respect they deserve is concerning to me …”

With files from Amy Kenny

Contact Julien Gignac at

julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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