Whitehorse ponders next steps after Hillcrest project voted down

A mournful dirge for the defeated Hillcrest improvement project could be heard at Whitehorse city hall May 16. The proposed project was rejected by Hillcrest homeowners, who voted against it by a margin of 54 per cent May 9.

A mournful dirge for the defeated Hillcrest improvement project could be heard at Whitehorse city hall May 16.

The proposed project was rejected by Hillcrest homeowners, who voted against it by a margin of 54 per cent May 9. The project would have included upgrades to outdated water and sewer systems. It was hotly contested by residents, however, largely due to a local improvement charge (LIC), which would have seen individual homeowners shelling out an average of $15,000 to pay for a portion of the surface work associated with the project.

Additionally, the voting process — which counted unreturned ballots as yes votes — was unpopular with some community members, who called the practice “crazy” and “undemocratic.”

The way LICs are implemented is spelled out by the Municipal Act.

“I thought we had a win-win situation,” said city engineer Wayne Tuck.

Mayor Dan Curtis was visibly disappointed with the results of the vote, lamenting the time and energy put into the project by city staff and council.

“I just don’t feel the project received the appreciation it deserved,” he said. “How often does the federal government say, ‘you have $14 million to put into a neighbourhood’?”

The $14 million allotted to the project from federal funds “can be spent elsewhere” said Curtis.

“(The money) was essentially earmarked for (Hillcrest) but we have over a hundred projects earmarked in our city.”

Tuck said to his knowledge this was the first time an LIC had been voted down, at least in his career with the city. There was some debate about that among council, however.

“This is not the first time an LIC has been voted down,” Coun. Samson Hartland said. He said he recalled an LIC that had been voted down in Hillcrest “25 or 30 years ago.” Other councillors and the mayor said they thought an LIC had been voted down in the Black Street area some years ago.

Mayor Curtis later rescinded that claim and said Tuck was probably correct and this was the first time an LIC had been voted down.

“I think that’s just a question of logistics and linguistics there,” he said.

Mike Gau, director of development services, later confirmed eight LICs have previously been voted down.

Coun. Betty Irwin said that while citizens rejecting something like this “doesn’t happen very often, the decisions that have come out of (this vote) are very interesting.”

“Citizens have made a decision and we have to abide by that decision,” she said. “I’m disappointed the LIC wasn’t approved but I think it’s a very interesting process.”

Affordability was a key issue, Hartland said.

“We heard some compelling arguments (from residents), especially in terms of the affordability factor,” Hartland said.

Curtis said he felt there had been much misinformation about the LICs among residents.

“There was a lobbyist group to ensure this didn’t move forward. I don’t think some of the information was as accurate as it could be.”

“(LICS are) not unique to the Yukon,” he said.

Curtis said he felt “sorry” for the residents of Hillcrest, who will be responsible for repairs to their water systems if something should go wrong on their properties.

“I just pray to God that (Hillcrest homeowners) don’t have a break in their waterline,” he said. “They’d be 100-per cent responsible (for repairs).”

At this time, the city can either try again in a year, go ahead with the plan without an LIC, or scrap the plan altogether. City staff has recommended the third option, which would be the final nail in the Hillcrest improvement project coffin.

Council will vote on that recommendation May 23.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

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