Advertisement

Whitehorse mulling solutions for vacant lots, derelict buildings

A boarded up building at 2098 Second Avenue in Whitehorse. The city is considering a bylaw against vacant lots and buildings sitting unused over multiple years. (Gabrielle Plonka/CBC - image credit)
A boarded up building at 2098 Second Avenue in Whitehorse. The city is considering a bylaw against vacant lots and buildings sitting unused over multiple years. (Gabrielle Plonka/CBC - image credit)

Whitehorse is working on a bylaw to penalize the owners of derelict buildings and vacant lots.

Mike Gau, the city's director of development services, said the bylaw is still being written. Once it's finished, it'll be presented to city council for approval.

Gau said the new bylaw will be modelled after similar policies in other cities. The goal is to put pressure on land-owners to sell or build on the unused space.

That could look like a system of fines, fees or higher tax rates.

One proposal is to bring in a permitting bylaw that would require building owners to get a city permit in order to board up their building — for a fee. Every year, that fee will increase, until it costs thousands of dollars annually to keep a boarded building.

"Ultimately, the owner is forced to either sell or build," said Gau.

Gau said residents have been complaining about derelict buildings downtown for several years. Some of the feedback he's heard is that the buildings are ugly, waste valuable space and pose safety concerns.

"There's some high-profile boarded buildings on our main corridors on Second and Fourth Avenue that I'm sure everyone is aware of," Gau said. "Certainly, we're hoping to get those redeveloped very soon."

Aside from derelict buildings, the bylaw would also apply to 26 vacant lots in downtown Whitehorse. Gau said he thinks those could be developed quickly, though — in the past five years alone, development has started on 45 other previously vacant lots.

The city has spoken with some of the owners of these spaces over the years, Gau said. Some of them are owned by developers who regularly inquire about changes to the city's developer incentive policy. That policy is currently being revised to accommodate highlighted roadblocks or issues.

Demolishing derelict buildings could be subsidized

The city is also looking at a tipping fee grant to speed up the demolition and redevelopment of unused buildings.

At city council on Monday night, Coun. Kirk Cameron said he's hearing that the cost of demolishing one building can reach half-a-million dollars. Most of that is related to tipping fee costs.

City staff have proposed a grant that would cover 25 per cent of a project's tipping fees, up to $100,000. That money is only available if the demolition is making way for a housing project, because the money is coming from a federal fund for housing initiatives.

Councillors asked city staff to investigate raising the grant to cover 100 per cent of costs. Both Cameron and Ted Laking expressed concern that 25 per cent wouldn't be enough.

"I think that we have an opportunity here … to really push for these buildings to get demolished and start being converted and developed," Laking said.

City staff were asked to review the proposal for a larger grant. If council approves it once it's brought back, it will be available until the federal fund expires in 2027.