65-unit apartment building planned for Old Town gateway lot
A developer is looking to build a 65-unit, four-storey apartment building at the gateway to Yellowknife’s Old Town. Nearby residents say it can’t be allowed.
Milan Mrdjenovich, representing the company hoping to build the complex, said he believes the units will help to satisfy demand. “This site has a storied history and we’re excited to do something here,” he said.
But members of the Back Bay Community Association, which represents residents living nearby, have spent the past week expressing opposition to the proposal.
The area, near the intersection of Franklin Avenue and School Draw Avenue, used to be known as Bartam Court.
David Gilday, who lives nearby, says the proposed building shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead because it’s too tall for the area’s zoning and doesn’t meet the zoning bylaw’s requirements.
Gilday says the “Old Town mixed” zoning designation, which applies to that parcel of land, requires that buildings be no more than 10 metres tall.
“It’s four storeys tall, which puts it above the height of the any acceptable structure within the zone,” said Gilday, “and it’s an apartment building, which is not an accepted use within the zone.
“They’re putting a proposal to the City which seems an easy one to turn down.”
There is also lingering resentment among neighbours who say the same developer promised to build a seniors’ complex on the lot two decades ago, but never followed through.
The right fit for the area?
Mrdjenovich, who is the son of longtime Yellowknife developer Mike, expects the Nova Group of Companies’ proposal to come before city councillors on May 4.
“The council meeting will determine whether we can build that type of project there. I know there are a couple of crusaders who won’t want it there, but I think it’ll complement the area,” Mrdjenovich told Cabin Radio last week.
He says the building will have a range of one-bed and two-bed units of around 1,200 sq ft, designed to be “really spacious” with five-foot windows and modern trims and appliances.
“We’re looking at this as an exciting opportunity, especially in this economic climate,” said Mrdjenovich.
“I think it’ll be good for Yellowknife. It’ll bring a lot of people there that’ll spend some money, and we want to bring affordable rental units to Yellowknife.”
But Gilday thinks the proposal is totally out of character for the area.
“It’s 89 metres long,” he exclaimed by phone. “You might want, before you do a story, to come down and stand on the sidewalk, look at the land, and imagine the length of a football field.
“And imagine four storeys high. It totally obliterates the hill. Gone. It’ll be hidden completely.
“Old Town is deemed a character area within the city. Now we have a building proposal which clearly doesn’t fit that description. It completely eliminates the visuals, the rocks, and the trees that are down in this neighbourhood.”
A question of similar use
Mrdjenovich sees it differently.
“It’s a beautiful area just on that ice road there and hopefully we can do something that would be attractive to that area,” he said.
“We own part of that hill that goes on above it. We’re not going to do anything there, we don’t want to disturb the natural habitat of that area, it’s a beautiful area.
“We’ve hummed and hawed on different things and I think an apartment building there, overlooking the lake, would be great for that area.”
How the Bartam Court lot currently looks. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
According to a letter sent to residents by the City of Yellowknife, the company will ask city councillors to give the building a green light under a zoning rule that allows structures of a “similar use” to others in the area to go ahead.
The building can’t happen if councillors say no.
“I defy anybody to find a building in Old Town that’s anywhere near a 65-unit, four-storey apartment building,” Gilday said.
Councillor Shauna Morgan, who lives in the area, said council had yet to be briefed on the matter and had made no steps toward a decision.
The perfect spot for ‘infill’
Zoning for different parts of Yellowknife is in something of a state of flux.
The City’s new community plan is awaiting approval from the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, but that is being held up by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is preventing the necessary consultation from taking place.
Once that community plan is fully approved, there may well be changes to various zones in the municipality. But because things are held up, the current zones remain in place.
Part of the community plan calls for more “infill” – getting more homes built in areas exactly like Bartam Court where water and sewer service already exists and no new roads need to be built.
That means Yellowknife can add new homes without adding more services, which in turn keeps taxes down.
Gilday acknowledges all of that and says he doesn’t disagree with the principle, but the building simply isn’t suitable for the area.
“People are appalled that a developer would come in and propose something that’s so far outside the bylaws,” he said.
“People accept development will occur there. They’re not happy that a proposal has gone in that doesn’t meet the bylaws.
“I’m hoping others will speak up and contact council themselves.”
‘Thin end of the wedge’
To Mrdjenovich, though, Yellowknife needs homes like these.
“We feel there’s a need for some newer, modern apartments. Larger windows, larger units for basically the same price everyone else is paying for these run-down units that are there,” he argued.
“You know Yellowknife. There are not many new multi-family buildings that have been built in the past five or six years.”
The Back Bay Community Association is understood to be asking a local architect to review the submission on its behalf.
“This is really the thin end of the wedge on changing the whole nature of the Old Town zone,” said Gilday.
“You let one building in that is way outside of the currently accepted standards and values and then, five years from now, another developer comes along and says, ‘My similar use is that apartment building down the street.’ And then there’s another one after that.”
The City of Yellowknife is accepting comments from nearby residents until the morning of May 1, it said in a letter to locals.
Mrdjenovich says this is one of five projects the family business has planned for Yellowknife this year.
Another project at the top end of School Draw Avenue is on hold as the Covid-19 pandemic means little, if any work can get done.
“Right now, I should be building on the third floor of my condo project there at the end of School Draw. Obviously we’re not doing much right now, we can’t even get material or workers up there,” said Mrdjenovich.
“Our hotel has come to a grinding halt, a lot of our properties have come to a standstill.
“Hopefully things kind-of change later on this year.”
Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.