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The Journey Begins

We are doing it again. I think we might be mad - well, more like addicts. We purchased a lot in the Raven's Ridge neighbourhood just off the Alaska Highway. For those of you that don't know Whitehorse, Raven's Ridge is a rural residential area actually closer to downtown than many of the established 'urban' neighbourhoods. It flanks McIntyre Creek and has a bit of a storied history. Once a part of the Copperbelt mining area, Raven's Ridge is actually encumbered by a hundred year old mineral claim. That is to say while we own the surface rights, someone else actually owns the subsurface rights. The Yukon's laws are archaic and, well, given that there are only 38,000 of us, sometimes lacking a certain level of sophistication you would expect from the law. The area has been the center of a court case, potential lawsuits - you name it. Can the owner of the subsurface rights mine our property? Its complicated. Short answer, probably not. Why did we buy this property then? Its a 8 minute drive to downtown, we own a cliff, the bottom of a valley and 1.5 acres of boreal forest, so we couldn't say no.

the location

ravens ridge

the site

The mandate: After watching too many income property shows, and having our own rental suite we decided we wanted to live 'mortgage free'. That is to say, someone else could pay our mortgage. We went to work putting together a design, a construction budget and a proforma. The three aligned together, so we purchased the lot. The project includes a 900 sqft garden suite, two B+B units and our house. Whitehorse has very progressive Zoning regulations which allows for this configuration on the property. Chris' parents are actually business partners in this venture - one of the B+B units will be their northern pied-a-terre, which is unique because no one builds a holiday property in the subarctic. The other important goals we had for the project were to make it as cheap (inexpensive) as possible, make it as energy efficient as possible and maintain as many trees on the site as possible and reasonable given Firesmarting considerations. Oh and also, we are architects, so it should be cool (energy efficient, cool and cheap rarely fit in the same sentence).

the cliff

cool big rock

The challenge: Raven's Ridge sits on fractured bedrock. Yukon Environmental Health typically requires septic systems to be located on properties over 1ha in size and ours is .53ha. Furthermore absorption beds don't work on fractured bedrock - the effluent goes right down to the water table. So the City of Whitehorse (CoW) and Environmental Health (EH) implemented a development agreement for this area, given the concern that the increased density of septic systems on bedrock may pollute the water table and in this case build up the nitrogen levels. Water wells need to be 100ft away from an absorption field, and fields need to be 20ft away from buildings. The lots came with a restrictive covenant limiting tree clearing on the perimeter of the property. It should be said, that while the Raven's Ridge lots are highly sought after in town most are concerned with the development regulations. Not us, we naively and stupidly figured: no big deal. We are architects. Ha. So the development agreement set out by CoW and EH literally sets out where the septic fields can go. In our case it was at the highest point of the property. Shit rolls down hill, or so I am told, so unless we wanted a smelly macerating lift station (that is a poo-grindin' pump in layman's terms), this was a non starter for us. First step was to engage a geotechnical engineer. Knowing that in the test pit location they found bedrock 18" below the surface, we got increasingly nervous. We identified the new septic location at the low point of the upper bench and hoped for the best. We can't get a development permit until we have a geotechnical memo supporting our relocation, and we can't get the memo until we dig a hole and complete a percolation test. So we hired a site works contractor.

the dig

To make matters more complicated, the septic system needed to be NSF-245 certified as nitrogen reducing. There are only two companies in Western Canada that make a system like this. I am told the effluent that runs out of the waste water plant (WWTP) is essentially pool water, or more technically B-IV effluent. This would allow us to shrink the size of the absorption field, but the Yukon has not adopted the part of the septic code that has provisions for this reduction. Long story short, after meeting with 3 other lot buyers, the group of us bulk-ordered septic systems from BC, and convinced Environmental Health that our fields can follow the guidelines in CSA-B65-12 (Reaffirmed 2016). By the way, before this started we didn't know anything about septic fields, only that there is a tank and a field. Ok, so septic tank and WWTP solved. There is nothing that money and perseverance can't fix. And when you don't have alot of money, just push harder.

Now to the absorption field. If we hit bedrock, we are kinda hooped. Not completely hooped, but we would have to mound the field, which would mess with our grades. The lines to the field from the tank would be mounded and the six foot deep tank that requires 4 feet of cover (for those of you adding - a ten foot deep pile of dirt). With all of these mounds, there would be no trees left on the upper bench of the property. They dug the hole, and found that bedrock ranges from 9ft below grade on the north side to an estimated 2ft below on the south side. We want the septic on the north side. Success. So now we will be able to flush toilets.

perc test pit

As of Friday we have our memo, but are still without our development permit or building permit. We have been working on this since December. Maybe we will have a DP on Tuesday? Oh I forgot to mention, we want footings to start on the rental suite this Wednesday.

So we will be landlords and B+B operators, though really just a B operator. The intent is to run the B+B over Airbnb and VRBO as a vacation rental. The tourism market here is going crazy and the average occupancy rates are at 67% over the span of the entire year.

We will go into the site design and conditions in the next post.

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