Aerial image of the Copper Ridge subdivision taken in 2011. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

City of Whitehorse should listen to Copper Ridge residents on rezoning

John Stamp | Special to the News

At city council’s June 25 meeting, a proposed zoning amendment to 51 Keewenaw Dr. in Copper Ridge was approved by mayor and council by a vote of 5-1. Coun. Dan Boyd voted against the motion and Coun. Samson Hartland was absent.

This approval will result in the construction of a 10-unit rental development immediately adjacent to the Copper Ridge community playground at the corner of Keewenaw Drive and North Star Drive in the centre of an established family-oriented neighbourhood. Residents received less than 14 days’ notice to provide written submissions to council. Of the nine submissions, only one spoke in favour of the proposed change. A range of concerns were expressed, paramount among them the request for council to consult further with the community prior to making a final decision.

Up until to this change, this property has been zoned neighbourhood commercial within Whitehorse’s Official Community Plan. Residents recognised that it may have been challenging to develop this property for commercial purposes and understood the proponent’s desire to have the zoning changed. We welcomed new housing built for private sale, even with a modest increase in density included.

However, the imposition of higher density rental housing in the heart of Copper Ridge is not compatible with the present fabric of the neighbourhood and is inconsistent with the views of homeowners.

I expect that we are not the only Whitehorse neighbourhood that has experienced this degree of anti-democratic behavior by mayor and council. It appears that city politicians and administrators only desire token public participation. When — as in this instance — a substantive degree of citizen engagement emerges, they choose to ignore it.

I leave it to others to speculate on why Mayor Dan Curtis and his compliant fellow council members were in such a rush to ram through this zoning amendment rather than adopting our civic-minded request for a more fulsome and effective public conversation on an issue with true potential to adversely affect local families.

I expect that Curtis and other members of council will accuse us of NIMBYism and hide behind the contention that they were elected to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. I think that both assertions cheapen our democratic institutions and fail to recognise that truly listening to citizens must be a core ongoing responsibility of elected office.

We all benefit when our political leaders strive to bridge differences and bring creativity to bear when crafting solutions. Other than attempts by Boyd, I saw neither of these in evidence over the course of observing council address and respond to our concerns.

I strongly urge all residents to critically appraise the performance of the current group of city politicians when casting their ballot in this fall’s municipal election. Whitehorse needs people in local government who will demonstrate an unwavering commitment to actively listening to the views of citizens throughout the electoral cycle. I look forward to joining others in supporting individuals who come forward expressing a similar vision.

John Stamp is a resident of Copper Ridge.

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