A visualization of the proposed Avens Pavilion as seen in Avens' latest annual report.
Plans to build a 102-unit seniors’ facility cleared a significant obstacle on Monday as Yellowknife city councillors unanimously voted to approve that use of the land.
Residents near the proposed site of the Avens Pavilion building have criticized various aspects of the project, particularly designs for road access to the facility that include use of a narrow laneway.
Councillors stressed they had heard those concerns. In a symbolic gesture, they specifically instructed that staff take care to ensure plans for road access and parking at the site are safe and adequate. (The city’s zoning bylaw dictates staff must do so anyway.)
Mayor Rebecca Alty pointed out that council’s Monday vote was simply to approve use of the land for a special care facility like the one being proposed.
The vote does not mean the entire building, as currently designed, is approved and can be built.
The development must still go through the regular permitting process, which includes scrutiny from City Hall to ensure compliance with bylaws and an appeal process residents can trigger once a permit to build is issued.
“Tonight’s approval of a building use isn’t carte blanche to build whatever,” Alty said.
“By approving the building use, we’re just moving the building to the next stage in the process.”
Developer ‘actively finding solutions’
Avens Pavilion would effectively double the size of the Avens development, which sits on the fringe of downtown Yellowknife and is by far the largest facility for seniors in the territory.
The building is designed to offer 92 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units, more than 80 parking spots, laundry services and a coffee shop.
Residents of nearby Matonabee Street have said they understand the need for the facility as the NWT’s population of seniors grows, but they insisted that could not outweigh concerns about the building’s sun shadow, noise, draining issues, and pedestrian safety.
Most of all, though, they feared the planned use of an existing laneway was entirely inadequate for a facility of Avens Pavilion’s size and would play havoc with traffic in the area.
Councillors accepted those concerns but, on Monday, said they were confident the developer would adjust its plans accordingly.
The developer is “considering the issue seriously and actively working with administration to find solutions,” Councillor Julian Morse concluded after presentations earlier in the evening.
“Ultimately, I would like this development to go forward in a way that minimizes impact to the neighbourhood and maximizes housing in the community.”
Councillor Shauna Morgan introduced the change to council’s motion that specifically instructed care be paid toward road access and parking, in line with existing bylaws.
While Councillor Niels Konge said that amendment was “insulting to our staff” as it in effect ordered them to follow existing rules, he was alone in voting against the change and ultimately supported the final motion as amended.
Morse said: “I do want the neighbourhood to understand that we have heard their concerns and I think this establishes a good balance.”
Alty acknowledged Morgan’s amendment was “redundant” but added it was “also an opportunity to signal we have heard, loud and clear, that this is an issue and this is how it’s going to be dealt with.”
“This will bring the balance we are looking for,” said Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza.
Konge, voting to approve use of the lot for a special care facility, said the development “meets the smell test” and also “meets a greater community need, which I think is really important to recognize.”