The developer of condo units on Yellowknife’s School Draw Avenue posted images to Twitter on Sunday showing apparent overnight vandalism of equipment.
Milan Mrdjenovich, whose company is building the condos at the base of Tin Can Hill, shared photos displaying two pieces of heavy machinery with smashed windows.
The site is controversial as some nearby residents accuse Mrdjenovich of doing too much work there without having finalized permits in place. They say his company has also failed to adequately communicate with neighbours.
Mrdjenovich said he had “never experienced this kind of hate and anger” toward a project.
However, the identity of those responsible for the vandalism – and any connection to that frustration in the community – is not clear. Mrdjenovich later said “it was probably kids throwing rocks,” adding he had no desire to upset neighbours of the site any further.
One anonymous user of Twitter, claiming to be a Yellowknife resident, wrote in a private message to Cabin Radio shortly after 4am on Sunday: “He’s been denied twice legally and still building … We got it from here.”
Following publication of this article, the author of that message said they had been referring to the prospect of legal action against the developer.
“It’s a really focused anger and it’s troubling. I feel like I’m a target,” Mrdjenovich told Cabin Radio on Sunday morning.
“People are just screaming at me and yelling,” he said, describing encounters with residents in recent days. “It’s disconcerting when you’re trying to do something positive for the community. I was really excited to be here.”
Mrdjenovich says his development has met “all the guidelines the City of Yellowknife has given me to build” and insists he has not overstepped the mark in his preparation of the site.
The developer said a near neighbour of the School Draw Avenue site had taken the project to Yellowknife’s development appeal board and a date of August 5 had been set for the case. (The City’s communications team does not work weekends and was not available to immediately confirm details of the hearing, nor answer questions regarding the precise permits required for the work Mrdjenovich is seeking to do.)
“It shouldn’t go any further than that,” said Mrdjenovich, giving his view of the case. “There’s technically nothing to appeal, other than the fact that you don’t want it there.
“Hopefully by August 6 we’re piling and we can beat the winter.”
Concerns for months
Yellowknifers and the Mrdjenovich family have a long and complex history.
Some characterize the family – in particular Milan’s father, Mike – as taking a cavalier approach to construction and civic-mindedness in the city. They point to issues like waste disposal on some Mrdjenovich-owned lots as an example.
Others have defended the family, noting there is a finite supply of developers working in Yellowknife, particularly on the scale of Mrdjenovich-owned firms.
For months, residents near the development in question have expressed concern that more work is being done to the site than is permissible under Yellowknife’s construction rules.
As early as December last year, some residents objected to the work, stating City rules require a development permit for more than a 60-centimetre grade change.
“We’re within our right to do site prep, as long as we’re not erecting anything,” Mrdjenovich told Cabin Radio on Sunday in response.
“We’re allowed to prep any site. We haven’t done anything in the wrong.”
However, local resident Cameron Twa challenged Mrdjenovich’s approach to the work on Twitter.
Responding to Mrdjenovich’s tweet documenting damage to his equipment, Twa wrote: “Perhaps if you tried minimal consultations with the neighbourhood you’d realize we are not bad people. But you just keep working, not caring what anyone else thinks.
“You assume someone mad at your development did this. Regular vandalism happens all the time and people party on the hill all the time. You haven’t once talked to the neighbourhood, you don’t know us. You just got here and began work without a development permit.”
In reply, Mrdjenovich stated he was a “good person” and people living nearby should “feel free to come talk.”
Mrdjenovich apologized to another resident who said “a heads-up that a crew was starting work, a fence was going up, you were going to block off part of the street … would’ve gone a long way in my books.”
“You’re right, I should have reached out,” he said.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, he said he had laid off five people through various delays to the project.
“They’re upset at me because I’ve promised them work. Families are affected by this. I feel like I’m a bit of a victim of this ‘cancel culture’ that’s been going on,” said Mrdjenovich.
“I’m $850,000 into this already and I’m not even into the ground yet. I’ve got to worry about my family too, my kids, my life. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and employees to take care of.”