Once again, the question of developing the Porter Creek D subdivision has emerged, with the City of Whitehorse, who allocated more than $400,000 for the pre-design of the subdivision in December, despite the objections of a sizeable number of citizens. This week, the city announced that a facilitator will be brought in as part of the planning process.
What emerges from this entire issue is that, while a wide range of groups and individuals are opposed to this development, its only main proponents are the city itself, the Yukon Real Estate Association, and the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. In view of this somewhat lopsided number opposing the project, one must ask the question “Why Porter Creek D?”
One of the common proposals put forward in support of this project is the lack of housing in the Whitehorse area. However, this will neither alleviate the immediate needs for housing or the substantially more pressing need for attainable housing. There is nothing in the project that calls for anything other than the status quo in lot pricing, particularly in light of the Yukon Territorial Government policy of pricing lots based on market prices, rather than the actual costs of development. This policy puts the government in a position of arguing that to change would potentially reduce the value of existing lots. At the same time, there has been a wholesale failure to publicly discuss the profits earned on their sale at a higher price. Further, the process of planning, infrastructure development, and sale takes considerable time. An example can be seen in the development of Whistle Bend Subdivision, whose main planning meetings took place in 2006 and will sell its first lots some time this fall.
A point to consider is the population of Whitehorse. When I arrived in Whitehorse in 1991, the population was just under 18,000. In March, the population was estimated to be just over 27,000 (however, just over 2,000 of those actually live outside the city limits). In short, the population has risen by about 7,000 people in the past 21 years. There were also periods where the population fell during this time, as well. Our economy has been “boom or bust” since the founding of the territory and populations have risen and fallen with periods of economy activity and recession.
Yes, we are currently in a boom. However, there is no guarantee this will continue and a view to the economy of Europe facing disaster in the near future indicates that the boom may end abruptly. Will the population of the city hold its numbers? That is something that we must wait and see.
The second aspect of population growth that should be considered is the scope of the Whistle Bend subdivision being brought online this fall. The intention is that the subdivision will house some 8,000 people. This would be an increase in housing that would allow for matching and exceeding the city’s population growth over the past 20 years. In short, given the idea of 20 year growth, the new subdivision well into the development process should provide adequate housing for our needs.
We must also consider the fact that the Whitehorse housing market is also softening a bit, a trend matching those observed nationally, but whether this is an ongoing trend or short term remains to be seen.
It costs a great deal of money to plan and build a subdivision. Why are we spending this when the need does not match historical growth? If sales fall flat, and the population does not increase any faster than it has, there will be quite a few lots available without a market to support it. These will need expensive water, sewer, road and other services regardless whether the new subdivision is actually required. And, even if the population does not increase, infrastructure maintenance costs will.
I don’t mind a bit of pre-planning. In fact, I strongly support being prepared. However, it seems to me that the city, once again, is throwing money away on something that is flash rather than substance, and rather than determining whether or not it is a reasonable requirement. Remember that when you vote for a new mayor and council this October, since several of the candidates for both offices have been strong supporters of this development.