Yellowknife city council members at a January 23, 2023 meeting. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio
Citing”essential” need for more residential land, all nine Yellowknife council members have voted for planners to begin preparing five new areas of infill housing within the city.
The vote comes after a presentation on the sites last week by city director of planning and development Charlsey White and further discussion between councillors and the public.
During Monday night’s council meeting, some residents shared concerns around possible loss of green space and loss of enjoyment of their properties.
School Draw resident Marjorie Matheson‐Maund questioned whether the city’s population will continue to grow past the closure of Diavik mine in 2025. (Rio Tinto has estimated Yellowknife could lose between 406 and 622 residents by 2030.)
“I was here when Con and Giant closed their doors many years ago, and the housing market was flooded with empty homes,” Matheson-Maund told council. “People walked away from them because no one wanted to buy them and they couldn’t afford their mortgages.”
Matheson-Maund also brought up the 102 units for seniors being created at Avens Pavilion. Other presenters stated, in simple terms, that they believed residents did not want housing density in the city to increase.
In response, council members said the city’s housing crisis was immediate and required urgent action.
“The reality right now is that we have people who have no homes,” said Councillor Rob Warburton. “Zero vacancy for rentals, essentially no property for families. What should we tell people who can’t move here for jobs? To positions that can’t be filled in healthcare because there is no housing? How do we solve this problem without providing the space to solve this problem?”
Councillor Ryan Fequet said an asset management workshop for council last weekend had made the cost of new subdivisions “horrifyingly clear.”
“Urban sprawl, by which I mean adding new services like roads, sewers and water, is never financially viable,” said Fequet of what he had learned. “The added tax revenue will never come close to recovering the lifecycle costs of those assets.”
All five areas given green light
The five broad areas chosen for infill housing are portions around Niven Drive, the Niven Phase 8 expansion behind Moyle Drive, two areas either side of School Draw Avenue at its Old Town end, an area of green space between Burwash Drive and Con Road, and an area opposite the schools on Taylor Road.
Given city planners have already researched the viability of developing those areas, council agreed on Monday to proceed with further planning and environmental assessments – actions that will still require public input.
Four councillors – Fequet, Tom McLennan, Garett Cochrane and Ben Hendriksen – attempted to block potential development of an area off School Draw Avenue, given its proximity to a bird sanctuary, but were outvoted by the remaining five council members.
“It’s hard for me to pick and choose which properties get taken out of this list and which ones stay,” said Councillor Steve Payne. “Every area we’re looking at here is something special to somebody.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty concluded Monday’s meeting by suggesting to residents that change can eventually work out for the better.
“When I was nine, I wrote to council encouraging them not to approve building houses in Niven Lake,” said Alty. “At the time, Niven was the local ski club. When the homes went in, the ski trails were going to be demolished. It seemed like we were losing Yellowknife’s crown jewel, and we were all upset when council approved it.
“Fast forward 30 years and the ski club has moved to a new location just down the way, with a beautiful ski chalet instead of the little yellow trailer that we had, and Niven is now home to our friends and colleagues. They didn’t ruin Yellowknife. Life went on. In fact, the development of Niven was actually a lot more destructive than what’s on the table today, because not only did it destroy the ski club, it involved displacing at least three homes in Trail’s End to make Niven Drive.”
Alty said the vote to begin planning “means engaging with the public on which type of housing they would like to see, as well as trails, parks and more.”
While the city cannot implement every suggestion, she said, “that doesn’t mean we’re not listening.”
“There’s no silver bullet. We’re working to tackle this problem from many different angles,” the mayor concluded. “Tonight’s motion is one, and we’ll continue to do more over our term.”