Whitehorse rental lot up for grabs

At least 30 affordable rental units should be ready for occupation by late 2013, if all goes smoothly with a Yukon government plan for a vacant lot in Whitehorse. This week the territory put out for tender a 4.24-hectare lot on the corner of Mountainview Drive and Range Road between the Takhini and Northland trailer parks.

At least 30 affordable rental units should be ready for occupation by late 2013, if all goes smoothly with a Yukon government plan for a vacant lot in Whitehorse.

This week the territory put out for tender a 4.24-hectare lot on the corner of Mountainview Drive and Range Road between the Takhini and Northland trailer parks.

The lot has no set price. Instead, it will go to the highest bidder.

But any development will be expected to include at least 30 affordable units. They’d have to remain rental units for at least 15 years.

Rents would need to be set at or below the median for Whitehorse. Currently, that’s $800 for a one-bedroom unit, $813 for a two-bedroom unit and $1,050 for a unit with three or more bedrooms.

The developer who obtains the lot from the government will still need to clear city council. The lot will need to be rezoned and various permits and applications will need to be approved.

There’s a December deadline to accomplish all of this, with the aim of construction starting the following summer.

If the developer fails to meet the deadline, the lot will be returned to the government.

Developers won’t be allowed to build a trailer park. And city council wants to see part of the lot’s greenery retained.

Beyond this, it remains to be seen what sort of development will be pitched.

It’s expected that developers will aim to build the required number of affordable rental units, along with additional, higher-end condos, said Colin McDowell, director of the territory’s lands branch.

Premier Darrell Pasloski promised, during the territorial election, to act swiftly to address the lack of affordable housing in Whitehorse.

The rental vacancy rate in the city is currently hovering near zero.

Rather than opt to provide direct subsidies, the territory took the “creative” approach of letting developers vie for the lot, said McDowell.

But that’s not enough, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

The territory should be pushing for the creation of “hundreds” of new rental units and giving the private sector an even greater role in land development, said Karp.

“It’s business. Of course they want to make money. But they have the capacity to resolve this issue.”

Pasloski touted the impending release of the Mountainview lot during his annual luncheon with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce on March 23.

The territory is also looking at releasing other land it holds downtown, said Pasloski. Most of these lots are near the clay cliffs, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue from Hoge Street to Rogers Street.

And the government is also working with the Kwanlin Dun to help the First Nation develop its land.

The territory plans to spend $35 million this year on land development. Of that, $25 million will go towards completing the first two phases of Whistle Bend, Whitehorse’s next big, new neighbourhood.

Whistle Bend is expected to eventually house 8,000 Yukoners. But planning needs to start now on the neighbourhood to be built next, said Pasloski.

That may be Long Lake, on the far side of the Yukon River, he said. If that’s the case, another bridge over the Yukon River would be needed.

Touting the amount of housing built by the Yukon Party government over the past decade, Pasloski asserted that “no previous government has done as much to address housing.”

In all, the territory plans to release 300 residential lots by the end of 2013, said Pasloski.

But it’s still not enough to keep up with the territory’s booming economy, said Karp.

He contrasts the territory’s approach to housing with reforms recently made to the Miners Lien Act. That revamp took just three and a half months, said Karp.

“The miners said, ‘If you don’t change it, we’re leaving,’” he said.

That same can-do attitude needs to be applied to building several hundred rental units in Whitehorse, said Karp.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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