The tumultuous infill saga of 2017 has finally come to a close, with Whitehorse city council voting to approve rezoning for five of the seven proposed parcels at the Nov. 14 regular council meeting.
The city first proposed the rezoning in September, when the project passed first reading Sept. 25. Then there were two public notices — one on Sept. 29 and one on Oct. 6 — followed by a public meeting Oct. 23. During this time, controversy erupted around the rezoning of some of the proposed parcels, especially in the country residential neighborhood of Mary Lake.
Twenty delegates appeared at the public meeting, all of whom were from country residential neighborhoods affected by the development. People voiced concerns about losing greenspace, the impact on wildlife, the ability of the water and sewage systems to handle the new housing developments and perceived impacts on property values.
Based on these concerns, council voted at the Nov. 6 standing committees meeting to break the process down so they could assess and vote on each of the proposed parcels separately.
“The most salient point for me,” said Coun. Dan Boyd, “is the (city) responsibility for our zoning…. Council has the right to change the zone but we need to be careful when we do it.”
When it came to the the actual voting, the main issue dividing council — whether to rezone green space and environmental protection areas — became immediately apparent. The first proposal, which involved rezoning a five hectare parcel in Hidden Valley from parks and recreation to country residential, was immediately opposed by Coun. Betty Irwin and Coun. Samson Hartland.
The proposal passed 5-2.
Irwin and Hartland went on to oppose all five projects where green space, environmental protection or parkland rezoning was involved.
“I have a real problem when I see parks and greenbelt and environmental protection areas just rezoned for development,” said Coun. Betty Irwin.
Citizens need and deserve “some assurance that when you make that kind of investment” in a home in a country residential area, that area will remain “reliably the same,” and that people needed to have “some faith” in the stability of city zoning, she said.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said she felt a balance had to be struck between a desire for green space and the need for development.
“The ‘not in my backyard’ mentality is not sustainable or reasonable,” she said.
The two defeated projects centred on this issue. The proposed infill in Whitehorse Copper on Talus Drive would have seen a two hectare plot rezoned from environmental protection to country residential and was defeated 4-3.
The second defeated project in the much-contested Mary Lake area would have seen a three-hectare parcel rezoned from greenbelt to country residential. This project was defeated 6-1, with only Mayor Dan Curtis supporting it.
Coun. Curteanu said she had visited the area, and that “despite what (she) read in the administrative report,” she noted “significant trail use,” in that area, causing her vote against the development.
“I feel this is something the residents in the area would greatly miss if it was taken from them,” she said.
A second, 2.5-hectare parcel of greenbelt land was successfully rezoned in Mary Lake, however, by a vote of 4-3, with Hartland, Boyd and Irwin all opposed.
Opposed residents of Mary Lake who had come to observe the final vote did not seem entirely happy with that outcome.
“We still didn’t have any true consultation on the project,” said Mary Lake resident Stuart Young. “I think they are still breaking their own (planning) rules.”
The proposal to rezone a two-hectare plot in Cowley Creek from future planning to country residential and a proposal to change a lot in Arkell from neighborhood commercial to restricted residential passed unopposed.
The final bylaw authorizing the rezoning — now comprised of only the five approved parcels — passed 5-2, with Irwin and Hartland opposed.
Curtis — the only member of council to vote yes on every one of the approved parcels — said infill is always a contentious subject, but the needs of the community needed to be considered.
“The city is growing up fast and it is hard to keep up,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to do ….(but) the noble thing to do is to do what’s best for the majority of the community.
“NIMBYism is alive and well in Whitehorse.”
Still, he acknowledged that some of the approved infills were not popular with some people. That’s always the case with this sort thing, he said.
“It’s a hard thing to do, to piss off your neighbors,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has the right to say ‘my neighborhood is sacred, no one can come here.’”
Contact Lori Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org