Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for April 23, 2014

Minimum upset price for lots set at $395,000

In deciding to sell two Ogilvie Street lots, the city has essentially taken from one to sell to another, says Sally Wright of the Escarpment Parks Society.

By Stephanie Waddell on April 23, 2014 at 3:21 pm

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Sally Wright

In deciding to sell two Ogilvie Street lots, the city has essentially taken from one to sell to another, says Sally Wright of the Escarpment Parks Society.

“It’s kind of a sad, sad story,” she told reporters following council’s 4-3 vote Tuesday evening to sell the land.

Councillors Kirk Cameron, John Streicker and Betty Irwin voted against the sale of 706 and 708 Ogilvie St.

Mayor Dan Curtis and Councillors Mike Gladish, Jocelyn Curteanu and Dave Stockdale voted to pass second and third readings of the bylaw governing the land sale.

The vote came after Wright made another plea for council to permit a park on the land rather than sell it to private buyers.

Through an agreement with the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society (DUGS), she argued, the land could be used to expand the community gardens next door.

As Wright has stated in previous presentations, a commemorative display could be installed to highlight the history of the escarpment area and many former residents who, she noted, were displaced from the area in the 1970s.

“It is a very human history of Whitehorse,” she said.

Wright has also spoken on several occasions for many of those who once lived in the area, who are now in their 80s and 90s.

In the 1970s, the city bought the land from those residents as part of a program aimed at moving residents away from the area, which was thought to be unsafe due to the instability of the clay cliffs.

While their land was never expropriated, a number of those who owned the homes at the time have stated they were led to believe if they didn’t sell their land, it would eventually be expropriated.

Some who had young families have said they thought it was better to leave the area early in the process before housing prices rose around the city as a result of the mounting demand.

Updated studies and technology have shown some parts of the escarpment that were part of the 1970s buy-out are safe for development, including the two Ogilvie Street lots the city will now sell.

Given the history of the area, Wright has argued the land should be used in a way that benefits the entire community.

Last night, she said her group recognizes developing a standard park with grass and other features adds to the city’s operating costs, as it is the city which maintains those parks.

She suggested having a vegetable-producing park as an expansion to the DUGS community garden would eliminate costs to the city while contributing to food security, which is outlined as one of the city’s sustainability goals.

“I think it’s an ideal place for expansion (of community gardens),” she said.

She also pointed out there are already numerous properties in the downtown core the city could develop.

Before she voted against the sale, Irwin said she doesn’t believe it would be unethical for the city to now sell the properties.

In the 1970s, the city was acting in the best interests of its citizens with information that was available at that time, she said.

The current council, however, has new information and is not bound by decisions made 40 years ago.

However, as she was exploring the two lots, Irwin said, she looked at how close the back property line is to the clay cliffs. She also reviewed the city’s Downtown Plan, which recommends maintaining the escarpment area as an urban park.

Irwin too said the land doesn’t belong to the city or a corporation, but rather the citizens, and residents in the downtown should have input on what becomes of that land.

“It belongs to the people,” she said.

With that in mind, Irwin said, the city should defeat the bylaw permitting the sale.

While the history of the area was not a factor in Irwin’s vote against the sale, it was for Cameron.

He first argued the possibility of a six-storey apartment building that could be permitted in the mixed use commercial zone might well be an “eyesore” as Wright had suggested, and would not fit in with the character of the neighbourhood.

Cameron then went on to note the issue “of this very unfortunate history”. The city could work to resolve a perceived historical wrong, he said, adding work needs to be done to look at the history.

The councillor said he is getting a sense the city doesn’t have to do this right now, and suggested it listen to residents who have spoken out against the sale.

Streicker reflected on a slew of issues around the sale, from city plans which promote densifying the downtown to the character of the area to food security.

Ultimately, though, he concluded: “I don’t think it’s the right time.”

Gladish quickly disagreed.

“I do think it’s the right time,” he countered. He pointed to the reconstruction of Ogilvie Street planned for this year, noting the number of newer developments in the downtown.

He suggested Cook Street Park could be expanded for additional park space in the downtown. He also said he doesn’t see a need to add to the community garden on that site.

Stockdale argued new development is important in the area, and this represents a very small change for the larger downtown core.

“It’s a minor change on the outside of the fringe of the neighbourhood,” he said.

Curteanu also argued the street’s rebuilding makes it the “ideal time” to sell the lots for development.

She also pointed out that a number of documents show that former residents of the area were compensated for their land and that they weren’t forced to sell.

Streicker proposed moving to a sale that would give any former residents of the area who moved under the program in the 1970s the first right of refusal.

He did not receive the support of other council members in the move and opted not to make it a formal amendment.

Under the sale bylaw, the two lots – with a total size of 873 square metres – are to be sold together in a bid process, with the minimum upset price set at $395,000.

Given the discussion around the potential maximum height of a building on the property though, council members asked that a council and senior management meeting be scheduled to look at possible zoning changes before the bid process begins.

After the decision, Wright expressed her disappointment with council’s decision.

“Here’s the city pulling away from its history,” she said.

Moving ahead with a vegetable-producing park over the private sale of a common area many already use to walk and hike would have been a great way to acknowledge Tuesday as Earth Day, she added.

Curtis did issue a proclamation recognizing yesterday as Earth Day.

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