Whitehorse housing’s critical mass

Last year there were more than 440 new housing units constructed in Whitehorse. With the economy booming, even more growth is anticipated in the next year.

Last year there were more than 440 new housing units constructed in Whitehorse.

With the economy booming, even more growth is anticipated in the next year.

Traditionally, as Whitehorse grew it has sprawled, but that kind of development stretches city services and puts an unsustainable burden on taxpayers, resident Rob Hines told city council Monday.

“In (the 2012 capital budget) engineering items alone are expected to total about $25 million,” he said.

Much of these costs are the result of development decisions made by previous councils, said Hines.

While the city has made efforts to rein in urban sprawl, Heinz said even more effort needs to be put into densifying existing neighbourhoods rather that letting sprawl continue.

“My advice is to please consider the cost to taxpayers when deciding about how Whitehorse will grow into the future,” said Hines. “The decisions you make this year will affect budgets for future councillors.”

Coun. Ranj Pillai agreed.

“I understand exactly where you’re coming from,” he said. “If you look at Whistle Bend subdivision, what most people don’t understand is the fact that the Yukon territorial government is actually developing and selling the lots and the revenue will flow back to them.”

The cost of maintaining city services like transit and fire stations are largely borne by the city and its taxpayers, said Pillai.

“You’re right,” he said.

“We have to think that way or were going to be broke.”

But densifying the city is easier said than done.

Later at Monday’s meeting, council was asked to consider that very thing.

There are two condo projects planned for the Old Town neighbourhood.

Because of the way the properties are zoned, both projects need a special exemption from the city to allow for increased density.

While both projects are asking for the same exception, each is garnering different reactions from the public.

Narrow Gauge Contracting wants to build an eight-unit condo building on Ogilvie Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

But those plans are meeting with resistance from the neighbourhood.

“If a building of this size and style is approved, than all of Old Town will move towards the construction of buildings of this magnitude and the culture of the Old Town will be lost forever,” said Mark Smith, who lives across the street from the proposed development.

Smith was one of three people who spoke in opposition to the project.

The opposition came as a surprise to Doug Gilday, president of Narrow Gauge Contracting.

“I thought the issue would be density, but it turned out to be the building’s mass,” he said.

Ironically the size of the building conforms to the zoning restrictions on the property. It’s the population density that Gilday needs the city to sign off on.

While he’s sympathetic to the concerns people have about maintaining the character of the neighbourhood, building more single-family units on such expensive and prime downtown real estate doesn’t make a lot of sense, he said.

“What was a sustainable model in 1950 is probably not sustainable today,” said Gilday. “I want to give more people an opportunity to live downtown.”

But not all developments are created equal.

The owner of Alpine Bakery, Suat Tuzlak, is looking to build a smaller five-unit condo building.

His plan is getting a lot more support from the public.

Even one of the people who spoke in opposition to Narrow Gauge’s development, Bernard Buckles, stood up to tell council that he supports Tuzlak’s plan.

“It’s not an imposing structure,” he said.

What Tuzlak plans to build is not just a condo, it’s a co-housing project – a kind of planned community, composed of private homes that share some common amenities and activities like cooking, childcare, and governance.

All the units in Tuzlak’s building would share access to a communal brick oven, dining room and garden.

“I hope it will be a model for people and show them that there is a different way to live,” he said.

Council also received several written submissions for both projects.

Gilday only got one in support of his development, while Tuzlak received eight in support.

Council will continue to debate the projects next week. A final vote on both is scheduled for Jan. 30.

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