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Whitehorse council punts decision on 12th Avenue townhouse project

‘We were not put in these chairs to defer difficult decisions. We were put here to make decisions’
Councillors and the mayor spent a half hour discussing the property located at 21 12th Ave. before ultimately voting to postpone making a decision on the zoning amendment until city administration brings more information forward. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse city council was divided on the issue of a zoning amendment that could see five townhouses built on a lot that’s currently zoned for single detached homes.

Councillors and the mayor spent half an hour discussing the property, located at 21 12th Ave., before voting to postpone making a decision on the amendment until city administration brings more information forward.

Coun. Dan Boyd ultimately brought forward the motion, which was seconded by Coun. Samson Hartland.

“I think we just heard from administration how there are a number of studies being worked on that directly impact, at least in my opinion, the viability of whether to support increased densification on this particular lot,” said Hartland. “I certainly had a number of questions last week that left me still wondering after the council meeting — issues like where the no parking zone is going to be located, you know, the amount of traffic at that crosswalk and how it will be addressed with increased traffic at the respective lot … As it stands, I feel that we’re a little horse ahead of the cart here.”

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu also voted for the postponement, though her charged appeal focussed on the safety of kids in the neighbourhood, particularly students of Jack Hulland Elementary, located at 12th Avenue and Fir Street.

Curteanu cited the well-known traffic issues on 12th Avenue and said a number of parents have expressed concerns recently about unsafe driving in the area.

She said she’d like more information about the potential impact of adding five residences on the street, and that she would feel more comfortable making a decision after hearing the results of a joint traffic study currently being conducted by the City of Whitehorse and Yukon government.

During the meeting, Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, said the study, which is looking at traffic issues in school zones throughout the city, won’t be ready until the fall.

Curteanu said she doens’t necessarily want to wait for the full report, but said she’d like some more concrete idea of how traffic would be impacted by the proposed townhouse project.

“I just need a little bit of reassurance and I just don’t feel that I have that tonight,” she said.

“If it was my kid having to cross that crosswalk, I would want to know that my council did their due diligence to ensure the safety of the kids.”

“OK,” said Coun. Rob Fendrick, who was acting as deputy mayor while mayor Dan Curtis was out of town. “Pressure’s on.”

Curtis, alogn with councillors Roslyn Woodcock and Betty Irwin, (who phoned in to the meeting) voted against the postponement.

Woodcock, who said she was never in favour of deferring, said she felt council was losing sight of the fact that the lot in question can already, under current zoning, build four townhouse units. She said there are valid questions around other issues associated with the proposed units, but she doesn’t understand how the question of densification might be an issue.

“We’re talking about the difference of one unit,” she said. “So on that piece I don’t understand why we would postpone it. That seems like such a small amount that I don’t see why we would postpone on that basis alone.”

Irwin was also against postponing.

“I think we have enough information to make a decision on this,” she said. “We were not put in these chairs to defer difficult decisions. We were put here to make decisions.”

Irwin said postponement would cut into the property owner’s construction season, and that she would like to see it started sooner rather than later.

“I firmly believe that urban densification is the most responsible way to be looking at providing more places for people to live. We cannot ignore that our city is growing and will probably continue to grow.”

She also noted that traffic and safety concerns, while valid, are a separate issue.

“They’re not new to 12th Avenue,” Irwin said. “Those have been coming forward for quite a long time now, but they relate mostly to speeding and motorists that disregard pedestrian crossings. It’s my opinion that the addition of five housing units is not going to have much impact on the already existing speeding problems.”

Irwin’s only concern was with the 15 m height allowance associated with the requested amendment from RS to RM zoning.

She proposed an amendment to restrict the building height to 10 m, in order to keep the townhouses from becoming the most dominant feature on the street.

Art Kehler, the owner of the property, told the News on May 23 he doesn’t plan to build over 10 m. He said he thought his drawings made that clear. He also said his plans show that he’ll move the property’s current driveway, which backs out directly into a crosswalk, to the opposite end of the property, 24 m away from the crosswalk.

If council takes too long with the decision, however, he said he’ll subdivide the property and build two duplexes with garden suites, each of which will require its own driveway.

Curtis said he agreed with Irwin.

“We were elected to these chairs to make decisions and the season is short,” said Curtis. “If the comfort is not there for council, that’s your prerogative and I respect that and I acknowledge that.… If you don’t think that it’s appropriate, then don’t vote for it, but I think that time is of the essence.”

He said building more housing stock is paramount, and that it’s important for city council to work with contractors to provide them opportunities to develop properties.

Ultimately, the decision was postponed. The date for continued discussion is yet to be determined.

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