Whitehorse develops development

The city planning department wants to change some bylaws to help solve the housing shortage. "Housing is the number one issue that we've been hearing about lately," said city senior planner Mike Ellis.

The city planning department wants to change some bylaws to help solve the housing shortage.

“Housing is the number one issue that we’ve been hearing about lately,” said city senior planner Mike Ellis. “Providing people with places to live is the priority.”

The proposed changes to the zoning bylaws are the least controversial. The hope is that they will be easy decisions for council to make, he said.

“If we can get them into place for this summer, it should open up a lot more options for the peak building season,” said Ellis.

Four zoning changes will be brought to council next month, and could be adopted by the end of May.

The department is recommending changes that would allow more rooming houses and hostels throughout the city.

It’s also asking that building height limits be relaxed to allow for more than four stories to be built in taller buildings.

There are also changes to zoning that would remove the parking requirements for supportive housing units.

“Nonprofit agencies have been coming to us and saying they want to build small residential units,” said Ellis. “These projects aren’t feasible because of our parking requirements.”

Finally, there are plans to allow property owners to build permanent garden suites in urban areas.

Currently, garden suites – small detached buildings – are only allowed in country residential zones, have to be removed after five years and have to be occupied by family members.

The revised zoning bylaw would remove all of these restrictions.

This is only the beginning of an ongoing process, said Ellis.

“The final big category is just encouraging more private development,” he said.

The city has compiled a list of under-used properties in parts of the downtown, and is planning on contacting property owners to find out why they aren’t developing, said city planner Ben Campbell.

“We’ve just done the sites in the downtown south, but we’ll eventually be expanding that to the entire downtown area as well,” said Campbell.

At its upcoming economic meeting this spring, the city is looking at possible tax incentives to spur development.

There are a lot of demographic and economic factors to consider as the city looks at ways to solve the housing problems, and many are connected, said Ellis.

“We can’t do things in isolation, we need to look at all these elements together,” he said. “Everything links together is our key message.”

All of the recommendations that are being proposed have come from the city’s Official Community Plan.

There are a lot of other good ideas in the plan, but many of them will take time and public consultation to implement, said Ellis.

“We don’t want to see delays,” he said. “We didn’t want to put in the more complicated issues that were going to take some time to sort through.

“There’s not enough land, it’s resulting in huge housing price escalation, and people can’t afford a place to live.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com