Yellowknife’s development appeal board has decided a new apartment building at the foot of School Draw Avenue cannot be four storeys tall.
The ruling, issued late last week, followed a 10-hour meeting in early October at which residents living near Bartam Court – the site in question – appealed on a range of grounds.
All grounds for appeal except one were dismissed.
The appeal board found the development officer had erred in approving a height variance for the proposed 65-unit apartment building. The board’s decision means the original height limit in the area will apply.
Developer Milan Mrdjenovich told Cabin Radio the project would still go ahead in April 2021.
“There’s a serious need for housing and I think it’s pretty short-sighted of the appeal board to not think about that when making a decision,” Mrdjenovich said on Monday.
What changes will be made to the design have yet to be determined, Mrdjenovich said. He is studying the board’s decision, having received it on Friday afternoon.
“We’ll see. It could still be four [storeys], it could be three. I don’t know yet, we’ll have to look at it a little bit better,” he said.
Asked how the building could remain at four storeys given the appeal board’s final and binding decision, Mrdjenovich said he was “not at liberty to say.”
In late August, the Back Bay Community Association submitted a notice of appeal against Mrdjenovich’s project near the intersection of Franklin Avenue and School Draw Avenue. The location previously hosted the Bartam Court trailer park.
City councillors advanced the project in May and allowed permitting to go ahead, even though the plans did not meet the letter of the local zoning bylaw.
But on November 27, the appeal board ruled the development officer’s decision to approve the development permit with a height variance – which would allow the building to be four storeys instead of the three allowed by the 2011 general plan bylaw – should be overturned.
At the appeal board hearing, development officer Libby MacPhail argued the general plan bylaw states: “No building should exceed three storeys in height. Exceptions to this height limit will be considered for sites along Franklin Avenue (west of Weaver Drive), subject to conformity and compatibility criteria … and to the design guidelines of this section.”
MacPhail said because the bylaw uses the word “should,” she had the authority to allow a height variance. She also suggested transition areas are encouraged between mixed-use and residential community, and therefore a height increase was reasonable for the development – which sits on the very edge of Old Town, at the foot of a hill leading to the city’s downtown.
However, the appeal board was “not convinced by the reasons put forward” by MacPhail, noting “the bylaw does not provide for transitional development” and the general plan suggests no height variances are permitted beyond Franklin Avenue.
MacPhail also argued a fourth storey would make the project financially viable for Mrdjenovich, but the appeal board said there is “no requirement to see intensification or to bend rules to attempt to reach a ‘potential’ target that makes the developer more financially feasible to pursue the site.”
“The board finds that the addition of a fourth storey does not adequately respect the provisions of the bylaw and the 2011 general plan and only exasperates the board’s concerns with the mass and scale of the proposed development,” ruled the board.
The board reviewed and dismissed several other arguments against development. Those include concerns that the development did not meet the character of the Old Town mixed-use zone, that it will increase traffic, decrease nearby property value, and impact sunlight and shadows.
A schematic for a new apartment building at Bartam Court, as circulated by the City of Yellowknife to nearby residents.
Appellants included the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective, Back Bay Community Association (BBCA), Cathy Cudmore, Barb Cameron, Alan and Miki Ehrlich, Pamela Dunbar and David Gilday, Ann Lynagh, and Gary Maund and Marjorie Matheson-Maund.
In a statement on Monday, Jones said his association was pleased to see the appeal board side with the appellants on the height variance and reduce the building height to three storeys.
“On the larger matter of the type of building allowed at this site, the appeal board has agreed with city council that an apartment building, which the zoning bylaw did not otherwise allow on this site, is similar to a townhome, and may be permitted.
“Instead of seeing the townhome style of development of Summit Condos at the top of Twin Pine hill – that being groupings of smaller buildings – we will see a replica of the Chateau Nova Hotel on this site. We were not in favour of a building of this mass and scale on this site,” he wrote.