You can fight city hall

Edith Wienecke and her daughter Tamara Goeppel are relieved. "I should go dancing now," said Wienecke, the octogenarian who, with the help of her daughter, has been trying to get the city to rezone her property abutting the clay cliffs.

Edith Wienecke and her daughter Tamara Goeppel are relieved.

“I should go dancing now,” said Wienecke, the octogenarian who, with the help of her daughter, has been trying to get the city to rezone her property abutting the clay cliffs.

On Monday, Wienecke won her first victory in a three-year tussle with the city.

Council agreed to the rezoning after stipulating mitigation must take place on part of the land.

“I feel lighter now because it was something hanging over my head and now, finally, the decision came out,” said Wienecke.

Her daughter was more cautious.

“We’re not quite finished yet,” said Goeppel. “There’s still a possibility for things to turn.”

The city hasn’t approved the final agreement, or made clear the details of the mitigation work, but this latest development has given the family reason to be optimistic.

It also may give other former property owners of the escarpment neighbourhood a reason to hope as well.

Wienecke has lived on Drury Street, next to the clay cliffs, in a house that she and her husband built more than 50 years ago.

In the 1970s the city, citing the danger of mudslides in the area, bought up the neighbourhood, relocated the residents and bulldozed the homes.

But the Wieneckes stayed.

Documents from the era show the city wanted to expropriate the few property owners that remained, but it was never followed up.

Three years ago, Wienecke discovered the zoning on her property had been changed from “downtown residential,” to “environmental protection,” effectively rendering it worthless.

“It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare that someone in a cubical somewhere can just take a pen and erase your home equity, and you’re not even consulted,” said Goeppel.

The family paid for an engineering report that showed the property was safe.

They presented the document to council, but it opened old wounds.

Several former residents of the escarpment, who had moved in the 70s, opposed Wienecke’s request to council, arguing it was unfair to those who complied with the city’s relocation effort.

Many said they felt, at the time, that they had little choice.

“You could tell there was something that’s been festering for a long time, and they had no idea why we stayed and they had to leave,” said Goeppel. “Really it just came down to calling the city’s bluff.”

Because of the sordid history, councillors Betty Irwin and Florence Roberts voted against restoring the residential zoning.

“There’s a great deal of history connected with this property on Drury street,” said Irwin. “If we allow one person an exception we are calling into question our integrity as a body.”

Three years ago, the city bought property on the escarpment from one of the other owners who held out, and it should be done in this case as well, said Roberts

“Let Mrs. Wienecke live out her days and then buy it back,” she said.

The rest of council voted in favour of the zoning change.

Some suggested it was prudent to ignore the history, and treat the issue as a simple matter of zoning – Coun. Ranj Pillai was not one of them.

“I look at this as a really unique situation where we have an opportunity to right a wrong,” he said.

With the city now considering potential development of the escarpment, he would like to see a process put in place to allow the former landowners a chance to buy their properties back.

“I would hate to see contemporary development take place in that neighbourhood, while individuals who were told they couldn’t live there because it wasn’t safe now see that land being used,” said Pillai.

With more than 80 escarpment properties bought by the city over the last 40 years, working out the details will take some work, said Robert Fendrick the city’s administrative services director.

Though it’s a challenge, it’s also the right thing to do, said Pillai

“Sometimes you have to go down the tough road because it’s the right road,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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