Whitehorse zones in on density

Whitehorse is one of Canada's most sprawling cities, but local planners are hoping to change that. This week the planning department unveiled the first draft of its zoning bylaw rewrite.

Whitehorse is one of Canada’s most sprawling cities, but local planners are hoping to change that.

This week the planning department unveiled the first draft of its zoning bylaw rewrite.

There are 40 proposed changes in all, many of which are designed to deal with housing.

“A lot of it is to address increased density in our city,” said city planner Mike Ellis.

The changes include loosening the height restrictions in some parts of the downtown and rejigging some bylaws to make it easier to build multi-family housing and garden suites.

Both city council and planners are proponents of increased density, but if recent history is any indication a denser downtown is going to be a tough sell.

Public surveys have shown Whitehorse residents to be divided almost evenly on the issue. And council’s recent approval of two new, higher-density, multi-family buildings in Old Town was a contentious issue for the neighbourhood.

But the outlook of residents might be changing.

At Monday’s city council meeting, a new triplex on an undersized lot in Riverdale was approved.

As the development made its way through the bylaw process earlier, several residents appeared before council to raise concerns about what it could mean for the neighbourhood.

However, at the 11th hour council got several letters of support for the project.

“I just hope all the citizens of town are not the ones that pay the price (by) losing the character of their neighbourhoods,” said Whitehorse resident Cam Kos, who was opposed to the Riverdale project.

He worried that people “are going to scoop up these cheap little lots and put multi-family dwellings on them.”

But even a “cheap little lot” in Riverdale is pretty expensive.

Since 2006 the city has grown by 13 per cent but the housing stock hasn’t kept pace. As a result, land prices have doubled and rental vacancies hover around one per cent.

It’s a situation that both the business community and anti-poverty groups describe as a crisis.

“That’s just the world we’re in,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai. “If you have to pay $750,000 to replace a small house with a tiny house, that’s a single-family, the reality is no one is going to do it unless they go multi-family.

“Maybe I’m opening up a big can of worms. Is that going to change the character of a lot of places? Probably. But with the cost of building right now and what contractors are charging and the cost of materials and supplies, you’re probably going to see more of that.”

A complete list of the proposed changes can be found on the city’s website.

The planning department will also hold an open house April 3 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre to discuss the proposed changes to the zoning bylaw. It will accept written submissions from the public until April 24.

Contact Josh Kerr at


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