Whitehorse residents are complaining at the site of the former Macaulay Lodge
Whitehorse residents weigh the fate of undeveloped land in Riverdale that once served as a site for senior housing.
Macaulay Lodge was demolished last year. Now the Yukon government has requested a zoning change for the site so it can sell the vacant land through a bidding process this summer.
If the zoning change is approved, the site would be redesignated as a full commercial zone, with commercial operations on the ground floor and apartments above. A specific change in zoning would leave the door open for supportive housing as an ancillary use.
The Yukon government has stated that the area is in need of housing and the land is well positioned for housing development. However, some want the territorial government to keep the land and use it for social housing.
Ian Robertson, a planner and senior in Whitehorse, urged the city to deny the rezoning request during a presentation to Whitehorse City Council Monday night.
Robertson said he would like to see the site remain public. He said he would prefer another seniors’ complex on the properties, or at least the assurance that they would be used as affordable housing.
“We’re short on affordable housing, and so are seniors,” Robertson said in an interview. “I worry about low-income people, very little savings. Where do you live? And how do they live sensibly?”
Robertson said not all seniors could afford to live in private care facilities like the recently developed Normandy Living Complex. He also noted that Whistle Bend Place, a Whitehorse continuous care facility, isn’t as well-suited to seniors seeking a more independent, apartment-style life.
“People who lived [at Macaulay Lodge]they said it was more of a home than an institution,” said Robertson.
Other groups weigh in
Frank Bachmier, speaking on behalf of the Yukon Council on Aging, shared his thoughts with the council during two public hearings on the site’s fate: one in January and one Monday night.
Bachmier said he wants to build another senior living facility on the site. He said a number of seniors are on the Yukon Housing Corporation’s waiting list, and some of them have been waiting for housing for more than five years.
Meanwhile, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition told the council at the public hearing in January that it agreed with the zoning change but wanted affordable housing as a priority for the site.
NDP says land should remain public
Premier Ranj Pillai told the Yukon Legislative Assembly Monday that there are currently 250 people on the Yukon Housing Corporation waiting list.
Kate White, head of the Yukon NDP, said given that number, the property should be used for public housing.
“The challenge becomes when they turn it over to private development, even if the private developer says, ‘okay, we’re not going to charge market rent,’ that doesn’t mean it’s affordable,” she said.
Pillai said new real estate on the site will still help fill the housing gap and that affordability is a priority for any development there.
“I don’t think there’s just one approach that will work to address the growth challenges that we’ve seen,” Pillai said.
“I think it’s going to be very important that we work with the private sector, I think it’s very important that we work with NGOs, and I think it’s very important that we support the work of Yukon Housing support group.”
In an email to CBC in January, Yukon Housing Corporation said the zoning change will make the most of the land, which is close to several services and public transportation.
CBC has requested additional information from the company, but that information was not available at the time of publication.