Neighbours of the proposed Avens Pavilion say they weren’t properly consulted about the development and the City of Yellowknife broke its own rules when approving the project.
Fourteen residents of Matonabee Street are appealing the development permit for the 102-unit seniors’ facility. Among other issues, the appeal states the city didn’t adequately consider the development’s impact on adjacent property owners, a requirement under Yellowknife’s zoning bylaw.
Two of the neighbours, Judy Murdock and Marilyn Malakoe, told Cabin Radio they support seniors’ housing at the site but are concerned about the development as it is currently planned. They said they had tried to discuss those issues with Avens over the past few years to no avail, and characterized the appeal as their last chance to ensure the facility built is the best for seniors, the neighbourhood, and the community.
“The issue isn’t that we’re against a development, the issue is how the development is proceeding,” Murdock said.
“We’re not saying no to the project or to the development. We’re just saying do it right.”
Sitting in Murdock’s living room, the two longtime residents of Yellowknife presented a collection of meeting notes, letters and other documents related to the Avens Pavilion. Among them is a letter from the neighbours to Avens’ board, dated April 24, 2020, that sets out a history of issues with the development.
According to that letter, when Avens first proposed the expansion in 2013, it was envisioned as a two-storey facility with 55 long-term care beds, three beds as part of a palliative care program, a main floor kitchen, rehabilitation centre, and office space. At the time, neighbours worried about traffic flow, parking, lighting, drainage, shadows, green space, windows overlooking residents’ yards, generator noise, and effects on property value.
At a meeting at City Hall in December 2014, the letter says, Avens made a commitment to address those concerns.
But Murdock and Malakoe say those concerns were never dealt with and, since then, the design of the Avens Pavilion has grown to a three-storey, 102-unit building. They say they only learned about the new design through an article published in the Yellowknifer newspaper in February 2020.
“The neighbours have never really been part of the discussion on what the building will look like,” Murdock said.
“We’ve been kind-of shut out of the process all these years.”
The two women don’t believe the proposed building suits the neighbourhood and question whether it will be a special care facility – as the land is currently zoned – or an apartment for seniors. They said Avens has not clearly defined who qualifies as a senior.
“To me, it’s too large a building for the space. They’re trying to cram in 102 units, with parking, into a small, small space,” Murdock said.
‘There’s going to be an accident’
Several residents voiced concern about the project to city council in January, when councillors were considering whether to approve conditional use of the site for a special care facility. In particular, neighbours queried Avens’ plan to use a narrow laneway leading from Franklin Avenue as the main access point to the facility.
Malakoe said the alley is not wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic. She worries existing hazards will worsen with more vehicles and pedestrians.
“There’s going to be an accident,” she said.
Despite those concerns, councillors unanimously approved use of the land for a special care facility in February, saying any issues with the development would be addressed during the permitting process.
Murdock said she doesn’t feel city council really listened to the neighbours.
“We’ve provided all of this argument but really, nobody’s picked up on it,” she said.
The appeal argues that city council erred in not considering issues like traffic and parking when approving the land use, and in leaving permit approval to the city’s development officer.
Concerns resolved ‘as completely as possible’
Marion LaVigne, chair of Avens’ board of directors, said in an April statement that the project’s design and development team worked with the city to resolve neighbours’ concerns “as completely as possible.”
The neighbours say they were never consulted during the permitting process or told how their concerns would be addressed.
LaVigne warned that any further delays in finalizing the development permit – like an appeal – “could jeopardize the project funding” and “have devastating impacts on both the cost of the project and the lives of many seniors in need of affordable housing.”
Murdock said that unfairly places blame for any delays on nearby residents, who were told by LaVigne in a letter dated April 29, 2020 that they could appeal if issues with the development weren’t addressed.
“We were told that’s our opportunity to have input, but the way that it’s being presented to the public is: if anybody appeals, the whole project is in jeopardy. That’s very misleading,” she said.
The appeal seeks reversal of the city’s approval of the site as a special care facility and its development permit. It states the developer can then resubmit a permit application to be “properly considered” by city council.
Avens will ‘be responding accordingly’
The appeal will now go to the city’s development appeal board, which consists of a chairperson, a member of city council, and at least two members of the public. Decisions of the appeal board are final.
Daryl Dolynny, chief executive officer of Avens, told Cabin Radio last week he had not yet seen any appeals as the appeal period for the project was ending over the weekend. He said once Avens knew more the organization would “be responding accordingly.”
Dolynny did not respond to questions about efforts Avens had taken to address neighbours’ concerns, nor a subsequent request for comments.
The City of Yellowknife did not respond to Cabin Radio’s request for comment by the time of publication.