Efforts to fight the city’s modest infill proposals are a classic case of NIMBY syndrome. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Whitehorse’s NIMBY boo birds are back

Pushback against the city’s infill proposal smacks of selfishness

Whitehorse is not Toronto. On that, at least, I think we can all agree and be grateful.

We are, as the signs say, the “wilderness city.” We boast this status because of our unparalleled access to nature and all the incredible things that entails, like stunning mountain views in every direction and the remote, though very real, possibility you could be mauled by a bear while jogging.

But Whitehorse is not immune to the same sort of planning and development issues that plague its larger southern counterparts.

Demand for housing here outstrips supply, pushing up prices and rents. According to housing data released this week by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the city’s rental vacancy rate is down to three per cent, the average home sale price increased from $361,000 last year to $380,000 this year, and delays in Whistle Bend mean the number of new housing starts could actually drop over the coming years.

And yet, it seems, the most powerful force in municipal politics, here as in Toronto, is the existing property owner who thinks they get to veto what happens on land they don’t own.

Such it is with the backers of a petition on change.org — where there are currently 51 petitions related to the Transformers movie franchise — outraged that the city would dare even consider opening up some parcels of land in existing country residential neighbourhoods. Land that — it’s worth noting — while not currently zoned for construction is located in areas designated for development by the city’s official community plan.

These NIMBY arguments begin to crumble at the slightest scrutiny. If building in green space is such a threat to groundwater, then surely that is also true of the existing homes. Why did we allow those in the first place?

The neighbourhood is car-reliant, the petition claims, and so new residents would only serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions. If current residents find that so objectionable, perhaps they should move somewhere that is serviced by public transit.

The petition also gives away the perpetual, not-so-secret motivation of all NIMBYs everywhere: “the proposed development can negatively impact privacy, scenic views, and” — last but certainly not least — “property values.”

Nice try, but the city is actually under no obligation to protect your property values. Even your dream home contains an element of economic risk. The self-interest of property owners does not outweigh the broader obligation of municipal government to ensure there is an adequate housing supply.

And besides, have you seen what property values are doing lately? Infill does not torpedo property values. It does the opposite.

Whitehorse is in the midst of a housing crunch that only figures to get worse if any of several proposed mines go into production. The city will need housing of all types to meet both future and current demand. The bulk of that housing will be built, by necessity, closer to the city centre, but it also means filling spaces in country residential lots.

The nationwide housing bubble has gotten so bad in supercharged markets like Toronto and Vancouver that a recent Canadian Business article described a new movement: people who are actively rooting for a market crash so that they might one day be able to afford a home.

Said one housing advocate: “We have a housing shortage, and a large group of people who don’t want more housing — often people who already have secure housing, and who get richer if there is a shortage. There’s a class of landowners that passively grow wealthy, and another class that’s struggling to pay rent.”

That right there is the crux of it: NIMBYism is, at its core, a classic case of “I got mine.” My piece of paradise, in a neighbourhood so far-flung you have to drive to get the mail. Country residential neighbourhoods are not wilderness. They are where wilderness used to be. It’s irresponsible for the city not to infill in these places. Doing so helps protect the farther flung, genuine wilderness areas inside limits from development pressure.

If the city was proposing to build a dump or a 40-story office block in its outer suburbs, the petition signatories might have a defensible point. But the city is not, so they don’t.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

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