Yellowknife is seen from the air in May 2020. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
A plan to change how land within Yellowknife’s boundaries is managed – seen as a pilot for other communities – is taking longer than the city would like.
The territorial government’s Department of Lands is arranging to hand over significant sections of land to the municipality, a process that began in 2021.
Under the previous model, the territory held three-quarters of available land within the city’s borders.
The city has long maintained that is a problem because it means Yellowknife must apply to the territorial government any time the municipality, or a third party, wants to develop land. That creates a delay, the city successfully argued in 2021, overcomplicating the process of expanding Yellowknife or improving utilities and services.
The same land arrangement exists in many other NWT communities, so the handover of territorial land and commissioner’s land to the City of Yellowknife is seen as a test case ahead of a wider shift.
But city staff say things are dragging.
Progress is “slower than we’d like,” city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett told councillors on Monday as the Department of Lands presented an update at City Hall.
Bassi-Kellett said that while the city acknowledged a transfer like this would be “a process,” staff felt negotiations were “getting a little bit into the detail around which pieces we currently own … there has been some back-and-forth confusion around that.”
Vanessa Stretch, the department’s director of land administration, said the majority of the land transfer is still at the planning stage with consultation and engagement soon to begin. (The transfer will not involve areas that are subject to the Akaitcho land withdrawal.)
With a memorandum of agreement between the GNWT and city still not signed, Councillor Rob Warburton asked for a timeline to complete the transfer if the memorandum was signed immediately.
Stretch said processing an application, from receipt of that application to the transfer of land, generally takes six months – excluding the steps leading up to an application being submitted.
Councillor Ryan Fequet and Mayor Rebecca Alty each expressed concern that, with ministerial approval required, a clock is now ticking in an election year. It was not clear, at Monday’s meeting, when the cut-off date would be for ministerial consent ahead of the fall territorial election.
In the meantime, city planning director Charlsey White said progress was still being made through separate, smaller applications to transfer specific areas of land from the GNWT to city ownership.
So far, those have included the land beneath various roads, the city dump, and even the ground beneath City Hall.
As for the main transfer, White said: “We’re doing our best to bring it forward as soon as we can.”