A new, four-storey apartment building near the intersection of Yellowknife’s Franklin Avenue and School Draw Avenue has been advanced by city councillors.
Councillors voted in favour of the proposed 65-unit building being termed a “similar use” to others in the area, allowing permitting to go ahead even though it doesn’t meet the letter of the local zoning bylaw.
Two dissenting councillors warned the project could be taken to the city’s development appeal board – and they think City Hall will lose.
“Despite the advice of our staff and legal experts, I believe a legal error is being made,” said Councillor Shauna Morgan.
“I feel it’s quite likely this will go to the development appeal board and the City will lose.”
Morgan, who lives nearby, says the existing zoning bylaw demonstrates the building is not suitable for the area.
“This issue goes beyond whether we like the building that’s being proposed here,” she continued.
“We need to consider quite seriously the implications of, in my mind, glossing over our current zoning bylaw just because we may want to see a particular building go ahead.”
Councillor Julian Morse said: “I don’t see a similar use to this building in the Old Town zone. I do think there’s a good chance this could fail at an appeal.
“This is a building that is going to single-handedly define a whole area.”
Strong feelings over lot
Morgan and Morse were outvoted by councillors Robin Williams, Cynthia Mufandaedza, Niels Konge, and Steve Payne, alongside Mayor Rebecca Alty.
“I don’t think we’re breaking the law,” said Alty, rejecting the view that councillors were bending zoning rules to suit their goals.
She said territorial legislation gave council considerable freedom to interpret what represents a similar use.
Opponents of the building – many local residents among them – say there is nothing remotely like the four-storey complex in the area.
A schematic for a new apartment building at Bartam Court, as circulated by the City of Yellowknife to nearby residents.
Staff at City Hall, however, say it will sit on the border between Old Town and downtown and is creating exactly what Yellowknife’s overarching development plan calls for: infill, or the filling of available urban space so extra homes can be created without more spending on new roads or utilities.
The building is proposed by Nova Group, run by Mike Mrdjenovich and son Milan. They argue the lot will be transformed into spacious, new apartments available for rent at the same cost residents might pay for older, smaller units elsewhere.
Residents appearing before councillors last week, however, compared schematics for the new building to “a wall” and “three blue whales.”
They fear the building will be an eyesore far too tall for the neighbourhood, blocking out local scenery. There is also a lingering perception that the City and developer have mismanaged the lot for years – from the destruction of a trailer park on the lot decades ago to its recent use as storage for assorted materials.
Proponents say that ignores a series of plain-looking warehouses directly opposite the lot on School Draw Avenue. City staff say they’ll work to ensure the final design is in tune with the surrounding area.
‘A sound development’
“I don’t believe this is breaking rules. I think this is very much in the spirit of the general plan and very much in the spirit of the future community plan that we, as a council, have voted on at second reading and approved. I feel very comfortable supporting this,” said Councillor Williams.
“For me, this is actually pretty easy. In my opinion, this is a similar use,” said Councillor Konge, who dismissed concerns that the development appeal board might see things in a different light.
The appeal board looks into decisions of the City’s development officer as a form of tribunal. Its decisions on development disputes are final.
For the project to reach the appeal board, it would have to proceed through the remainder of the permitting process. City Hall has said staff will work with the developer to come up with a design that residents can live with.
“All sorts of things go to the appeal board. Having sat on the appeal board, based on the information I have today, I would support the development,” said Konge. “I think it’s a sound development.”
The developer must still navigate the standard permitting process before the project can be given final approval and construction move ahead.