Whitehorse residents weigh in on former Macaulay Lodge site
Whitehorse residents are weighing in on the fate of vacant land in Riverdale that was once the site of a long-term care facility.
The Macaulay Lodge was demolished last year. Now, the Yukon government has requested a zoning amendment to the site so it can sell the vacant land through tender in the summer.
If the zoning amendment is approved, the site would be rezoned as comprehensive neighbourhood commercial, with commercial businesses on the ground floor and housing above. A special modification to the zoning would leave the door open for supportive housing as a secondary use.
The Yukon government has said the territory is in need of housing, and the land is well-positioned for a housing development. Still, some want the territorial government to hold onto the property and use it for social housing.
Ian Robertson, a planner and senior citizen in Whitehorse, asked the city to deny the rezoning application during a presentation to Whitehorse city council Monday night.
Robertson said he'd like to see the site remain public. He said he'd prefer a seniors' complex on the lots, or at least assurance that they would be used for affordable housing.
"We are short affordable housing and that applies to seniors as well," Robertson said in an interview. "I'm concerned about people with low incomes, very little savings. Where do they live? And how do they live a reasonable lifestyle?"
Robertson said not all seniors can afford to live in private care facilities, like the recently developed Normandy Living Complex. He also noted Whistle Bend Place, a continuing care facility in Whitehorse, isn't as suitable for seniors who are looking for more independent, apartment-style living.
"People who lived [at Macaulay Lodge], they said it was more like a home than an institution," Robertson said. "There is no rationale being provided by the Yukon government to explain why they want to dispose of the valuable site."
Other groups weighing in
Frank Bachmier, speaking on behalf of the Yukon Council on Aging, shared his thoughts with council during two public hearings on the fate of the site: one in January, and one on Monday night.
Bachmier said he wants a seniors' housing complex built on the site. He said there are a number of seniors on the Yukon Housing Corporation's waitlist, and some of them have been waiting for housing for more than five years.
Meanwhile, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition told council at January's public hearing they were fine with the zoning amendment, but wanted affordable housing to be a priority for the site.
NDP says land should remain public
Premier Ranj Pillai told the Yukon Legislative Assembly Monday there are currently 250 people on the Yukon Housing Corporation's wait list.
Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said given that number, the lot should be used for social housing.
"The challenge becomes, when they hand it over to private development, even if the private developer says, 'OK, well, we're going to not charge market rent,' it doesn't mean that it's affordable," she said.
Pillai said new property on the site will still help fill housing gaps, and that affordability is a priority for any development there.
"I don't believe that there is just one approach that is going to work to take on the challenges of the growth that we have seen," Pillai said.
"I think that it will be very important that we work with the private sector, I think that it is very important that we work with non-governmental organizations, and I think that it is very important that we support the work of the Yukon Housing Corporation."
In an email to CBC in January, the Yukon Housing Corporation said the zoning change will make the best use of the land, which is close to several services and public transit systems.
CBC has requested further information from the corporation, but that information was not available by publication time.