Yellowknife councillors had less than 24 hours to mull points raised at three-hour public hearing on Monday, which illustrated the continued dominance of dogs, and their domain in discussions about developing Yellowknife.
Residents had spent hours debating how local homeowners, businesses, and dog mushers can live side-by-side in Kam Lake (where the mushers are now) and Grace Lake (a new housing subdivision near where more mushers might be housed in future).
The issue was subsequently debated by councillors alone at a noon-hour committee meeting on Tuesday, who were split over whether to change the boundaries of a newly created area – Kam Lake South – and whether to allow agricultural uses in Kam Lake.
Monday’s hearing was a legal requirement as the City of Yellowknife comes close to finalizing its community plan. The plan will guide how development happens in the city over the next 20 years.
Though the hearing was open to comment on any aspect of the plan, the dogs dominated.
In the plan, Kam Lake South is proposed for sled dog lots, light industry, tourism, and quarrying. The City says this makes the most sense for any future expansion of dog lots. Some residents say it’s too close to their homes.
Among 25 residents who showed up, some who live and work in Kam Lake and Grace Lake voiced concern that the current plan would create conflict between neighbours.
“I don’t want us all to be back here 10 years from now going, ‘I wish we’d done something different. I wish we had planned it so that we weren’t standing back here again, not getting along with each other.’ It’s really important to have community,” said Jackie Hawthorne, a resident of Grace Lake.
Others disagreed. Supporting the plan, active Yellowknife dog mushers reminded council they had been moved several times in past decades and then, in their recollection, promised by the City that they would never again have to move from Kam Lake.
Jordee Reid, president of the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association, outlined the needs dog mushers have for land in the City: access to the lake and trail system, municipal services, road access, and the ability to build residences alongside kennels. The overall goal, Reid said, is to expand dog mushing in the area and allow people to raise dog teams there.
Jackie Hawthorne, a resident of Grace Lake, speaking at Monday’s public hearing. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Alexis Campbell, also supporting the draft plan, said: “In the past, the City has tried to push mushers and kennels as far away from city boundaries as possible.
“They were moved multiple times and, although they were promised by the City never to be moved from Kam Lake, the City tried and failed to move them to the Engle business district.”
Campbell, an Indigenous dog musher, said she felt encouraged that the City had recognized the need for dog kennels in Yellowknife and “finally planned for, and included, an area for them to be allowed in.”
Peter Curran, long vocal in the dispute over how to develop Kam Lake, spoke of his own history in the area.
“I’m here fighting for the only neighbourhood I’ve ever known, for the only one my children have ever known,” Curran said.
He grew weary, he added, of hearing Grace Lake termed an “affluent, exclusive community of estate homes.” Curran felt there should be more recognition that the neighbourhood is a place where people spend time with their children and come home at the end of a workday. “I think that needs to be both acknowledged and reinforced here,” he said.
Curran believes the current plan could create conflict, saying it doesn’t resolve the “decades-long issue of incompatible development that has characterized Kam Lake since its inception.”
Those opposed to the plan as drafted want larger buffer zones between areas for agricultural use or dog kennels, and the Grace Lake and Kam Lake residential areas.
City administration recommended the specifics of buffers be addressed in the zoning bylaw, not the high-level policy document that is the community plan. An update on this bylaw has yet to start, but documents provided to council stated zoning has to align with the community plan “including the objective of appropriate buffers between dog lots and residential areas of Grace Lake South.”
Some opponents of the plan say dog mushers would be better accommodated in a lot south of Grace Lake, which creates a larger buffer zone. However, the matter is complicated by the City’s earlier commitment to let existing dog mushers stay in Kam Lake.
A suggestion raised by several speakers was to move the top portion of Kam Lake South – encompassing Curry Drive, site of the mushers’ current lot – to the Kam Lake area.
Councillors were split on whether to go ahead with this change. It would entail the existing kennels on Curry Drive becoming what is known as a “legal non-conforming use,” essentially grandfathering in the existing lots but preventing their expansion.
A map of the Kam Lake south area in the city’s draft community plan.
If Curry Drive becomes part of Kam Lake South, mushers will be able to buy extra lots there. If Curry Drive becomes part of Kam Lake, new dog lots will be prohibited there and will be built in Kam Lake South instead – which could be more difficult for mushers than simply expanding their present facilities.
Meanwhile, Councillor Niels Konge felt agriculture should not be a use included in the Kam Lake area, arguing it wouldn’t fit with other uses. Councillor Shauna Morgan, by contrast, said it was unlikely a large-scale agriculture operation would set up in Kam Lake.
“I think it’s much more likely that people are interested in really small-scale operations. That may be beekeeping or chicken coops, things that are already present in other parts of the city and many people are really passionate about,” she said.
Planning director Nalini Naidoo said agriculture and horticulture would need to be defined in the zoning bylaw. With the growth in popularity of beekeeping and keeping chickens, as well as development of a new agriculture strategy, Naidoo added there would need to be consultation with people involved in these industries.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said she wasn’t in support of removing agriculture from Kam Lake. “There are some really big lots in Kam Lake and I think, to remove agriculture and say that it’s not allowed on lots that I think could fit it, is a mistake,” she said.
Tourism in Kam Lake
Presenting on Monday, resident Eric Sputek opposed the community plan’s decision not to allow tourist accommodation in Kam Lake. A 30-year resident and owner of a construction company in the neighbourhood, Sputek said he’d like to be able to put tourist accommodation on larger lots on the west shore of the lake.
Sputek said the City had previously told him he would be allowed to put tourist accommodation like cabins on his 4.5-acre property. Naidoo said secondary suites – extra self-contained apartments on the same lot as your home – can be permitted in the area, but what exactly will be permitted depends on rules the City is still to decide on for short-term rentals.
On Tuesday, City staff said tourist accommodation shouldn’t be allowed in Kam Lake as such buildings “may cause further conflict” in the area, and the right infrastructure to support them doesn’t exist.
The community plan will again come before council on Thursday, December 19. At that meeting, councillors will return to the question of Curry Drive’s future and removal of agriculture as a permitted use in Kam Lake.