The future of Yellowknife's dog kennels resurfaced on Tuesday as municipal politicians opened a fresh debate over where extra dog lots should be based.
The City of Yellowknife publicly committed, earlier this year, to letting the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association gradually acquire its land in Kam Lake through a payment plan.
However, the issue now is what happens if the Dog Trotters want to expand in Kam Lake or any other operator wants to establish a new kennel.
The dogs occupied a solid hour of discussion among city councillors on Tuesday.
Where to house mushers has, so to speak, dogged Yellowknife's city councils for four decades. City planners' entire careers have come and gone with the dogs' permanent location undecided.
"It felt like the fight was over. And then this all came through and it became evident to me that the fight isn't quite over," said Jordee Reid, president of the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association. "That took me off-guard a little bit."
The debate centred on a motion by Councillor Niels Konge to amend the City's community plan – currently being finalized – in a way that would prevent the expansion or introduction of new dog lots in a portion of Kam Lake, around Curry Drive.
The Dog Trotters are located on Curry Drive, where the City has granted them – after decades of discussion – the right to land they currently occupy. The mushers have said they view acquiring that land as a matter of reconciliation.
Konge said he felt allowing the expansion of dog lots around Curry Drive, or the addition of new lots in that area, to be unfair on residents who had expressed opposition in past consultations.
"I'm trying to ensure we don't have incompatible uses side by side," said Konge. Instead, he wants new or expanded dog lots to be housed farther south in what is now known as Kam Lake South, to the east of a quarry along the shore of Kam Lake – as far from the new, affluent Grace Lake subdivision as is reasonably possible.
Konge's motion ultimately failed by the narrowest of margins – a tie, which preserves the status quo. However, the entire community plan must go to a statutory public hearing. Mayor Rebecca Alty said residents could reintroduce the issue at that point, "and we can have this debate again."
'They do belong there'
The detail of Konge's motion involved removing dog lots as a permitted use in the Curry Drive area of Kam Lake. The effect would be to turn existing dog lots into what is called a "legal non-conforming use" – essentially grandfathering in the existing lots, but preventing their expansion. Dog lots would instead be permitted in Kam Lake South.
Councillor Shauna Morgan forcefully opposed Konge's motion.
City councillors Robin Williams (left) and Niels Konge (centre) point at maps of Yellowknife's draft community plan. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Morgan said turning the Dog Trotters into a legal non-conforming use "means we're continuing to tell them that they don't really belong there, and that we will do everything we can in the future to stop them from evolving, or belonging there, or making a home for themselves there."
She continued: "We need to send a clear message that dog kennels and lots have been there for a long time, that they do belong there, and we're going to find ways to make sure that neighbourhood can function in a healthy way. I won't be supporting this."
Alty implied councillors were getting too hung up on fine detail when a community plan is supposed to be a broad document. She urged council to use its full suite of tools – including a zoning bylaw and area development plans, which are put in place once the community plan is finalized – to more precisely control how and where dog lots exist.
Stacie Smith, Julian Morse, and Alty joined Morgan in opposing the motion. Robin Williams, Steve Payne, and Cynthia Mufandaedza supported Konge.
While Konge and Payne argued the City's commitment to the dog mushers remained intact, Dog Trotters president Reid said she interpreted the discussion as placing an effective bar on her association's expansion in its present location.
Reid said the association had no immediate expansion plans, but added: "It is kind-of hard to hear that, at some point in the future, that might not be an option."
She told reporters: "It's our traditional cultural practice of running dogs. So it means a lot to us and we're not going to give that up.
Jordee Reid outside council chambers at Yellowknife City Hall. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
"People are starting to live next to us and we recognize dogs can be noisy at times," she said. "We want to live in unison with everyone and I think some of the concerns coming out are from residents, so we're here to hear those concerns and try to work through them.
"I mean, we're not asking anyone to move. So we kind-of feel that maybe people should come with that sentiment in mind."
Reid expressed her support for Morgan's suggestion that residents and dog mushers could be brought together in the same room, even with a mediator, to find a resolution the City could then get behind.
"We would certainly be open to that," said Reid.
"It hurts not to be welcomed with arms wide open, because we're doing that to other people that are coming into the Kam Lake area.
"It is hard to hear some comments that city councillors are still saying. It comes off a bit counterproductive. But then I sit in there, and I hear other councillors that are in support of us, and I feel really grateful for all that."
Airbnb discussion delayed
A range of other motions related to the draft community plan were presented during a lengthy discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the governance and priorities committee, which allows councillors to explore issues before they come up for vote at full council meetings.
Most of the motions were defeated, among them a proposal to keep expansion of the Grace Lake residential subdivision on the table as an option. The draft community plan keeps Grace Lake at its current size, a change from the City's past philosophy.
The only motion to gain approval came from Cllr Morgan, who asked that "any future developments of Tin Can Hill maintain space for passive recreation opportunities and buffer zones between trails and developments."
The marathon discussion succeeded in chasing off a number of residents who had attended to hear councillors examine the proposed regulation of short-term rentals (such as Airbnb) – an item never reached as council spent so long on community plan amendments. One by one, residents with an interest in short-term rentals abandoned council chambers as the earlier agenda items ran long.
Councillors instead rescheduled the discussion of short-term rentals for Tuesday evening's full council meeting.
The community plan will undergo a statutory public hearing, likely in December, allowing residents a further opportunity to scrutinize the plan and submit feedback. After that, it'll need approval from council and the territory's Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, Paulie Chinna.