The majority of Yellowknife’s city council supports allowing the proposed Avens Pavilion expansion project to move ahead, but some residents remained concerned about safety risks.
At a meeting of councillors on Monday, residents said a laneway on Matonabee Street – planned as an access point for the 102-unit seniors’ facility – isn’t wide enough and can’t cope with the increased traffic.
There are also concerns about the building’s sun shadow, noise, draining issues, and pedestrian safety.
Mayor Rebecca Alty told council she believes many of those issues will be addressed by the developer and city administration throughout the rest of the development process.
“I approve the special care facility as a building use on this lot but, that being said, the building must adhere to the rest of the zoning bylaw,” Alty said.
“The development officer is responsible for reviewing and approving the development permit from that technical standpoint, to ensure the development is in compliance with the bylaw and other relevant legislation.”
According to Alty, the development officer would then have to take the findings to the city’s director of public works and director of protective services to ensure they sign off on the remedies to any concerns.
Last week, council heard Avens plans to build a facility housing 92 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units, along with more than 80 parking spots, laundry services and a coffee shop.
That’s a significant increase for Avens, which occupies a site on the edge of downtown Yellowknife. Avens currently has long-term care beds for 55 seniors and 32 housing units.
‘The design, as-is, won’t work’
Increasing pressure on seniors’ services and facilities is expected in the coming decades as the NWT’s population of people aged 60 or over grows.
A petition created in support of the project urges council to make a swift decision and get the facility up and running as soon as possible.
Residents who spoke at this week’s meeting insisted they did not oppose the new facility’s existence, acknowledging a need for it in the territory, but asked for concerns to be addressed before construction begins.
The main concern is the Matonabee alley, which some residents feel is too narrow and cannot safely support more traffic.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city administrator, said those fears had been heard.
“We do know that the design, as-is, is not going to work. To assume that access will come from the laneway as-is is not feasible,” she said.
Bassi-Kellett suggested the “most logical and pragmatic” solution was a road from Gitzel Street to the Avens Pavilion site.
“That’s the one that is most prominent for us right now, most feasible, for issues relation to access, for drainage, for a myriad of other reasons,” she said.
“But it doesn’t preclude that there is significant consideration being given to others as well.”
Some residents, however, say that option doesn’t address safety concerns.
“Gitzel Street is another place where cars park on both sides of the street … this doesn’t solve the problem of the lane being too narrow,” said Marilyn Malakoe, a resident who lives on Matonabee Street.
“As a senior, would you want to take a chance using an unsafe lane every day?
“Think about it. Would you want your mother or your father to live in a place where the only way to get in or out of their apartment is to use an unsafe lane?”
Vote on February 8
Currently, the land on which the Avens Pavilion would be built is zoned as R3 – a designation that allows medium-density residential buildings to be built, including apartments and childcare facilities.
The Avens Pavilion is designated a “special care facility,” meaning it can be built in an R3 zone with council’s permission. That designation comes as the building will offer both independent and supported living for seniors, meaning the option for in-home care will be provided.
Some residents dispute the special care facility designation, arguing the Avens Pavilion is effectively a large, new apartment building that falls outside the definition of medium-density residential construction.
Alty, though, said the Avens Pavilion would, if anything, create less traffic and disruption than a straightforward apartment building. Fewer residents would own cars or drive them, she said.
“If they were just proposing to have seniors’ independent living in this building, this project wouldn’t be in front of council right now for a decision about the building. An apartment building is already allowed,” the mayor said.
“I think a building used as a seniors’ independent and supportive living facility, that is in compliance with the rest of the bylaw, is much-needed in our community – and will have similar and potentially fewer impacts when compared to the permitted uses in the R3 zone.”
Council is set to formally vote on permitting the facility on February 8. That night’s meeting, which begins at 7pm, will first allow residents the opportunity to voice any remaining views.
Beyond that, assuming council advances the project, residents will be able to review and appeal the development permit before construction can begin.