The City of Yellowknife has identified blocks of land it hopes to acquire from the territorial government under a plan to change how municipal land works.
At the moment, three quarters of the land within Yellowknife’s municipal boundary doesn’t actually belong to the city. It is territorial or Commissioner’s land, public land held and administered by the NWT government. A similar situation applies to municipalities throughout the territory.
Only a tenth of the land within Yellowknife’s municipal boundary is actually owned by the city. (The rest is federally or privately owned.)
The city has long maintained that’s a problem because it means Yellowknife must apply to the territorial government any time the municipality, or a third party, wants to develop land within its boundary. That creates delays, the city argues, and overcomplicates the process of expanding Yellowknife or improving utilities and services.
The GNWT has acknowledged holding back land within municipal boundaries is not the best solution, and promised to begin the process of transferring it to the city.
On Monday, city councillors will review a proposal to start that bulk land transfer and ultimately shift 59 percent of the territorial land to city ownership. While nominal land transfer fees are involved, the main costs to the city will be additional staff time and fees for legal surveys of unsurveyed land.
“Instead of the city asking the GNWT to transfer the land lot by lot, we’re looking to have chunks of land transferred all at once. This is the most efficient and cost-effective approach,” said Rebecca Alty, the city’s mayor, in a Facebook post.
As its top priority, the city proposes acquiring the land under its own roads. Much of that land is still owned by the GNWT even though municipal roads and infrastructure extend over it.
“This makes it complicated for certain construction projects,” said Alty, in part quoting notes from a briefing document for councillors.
“For example, when a utility company asks the city for permission to run underground or overhead infrastructure – an electrical line or heating pipeline – within a road that the city doesn’t own, it can be challenging.
“While there are legal solutions that can address these issues, the city has less control and takes longer to process permits or agreements because we don’t own the road.”
The next priority is acquiring waterfront land around various lakes, alongside what are known as headlease parcels – land leased from the GNWT that the city can sublease to others. Examples include the ski club and shooting club. Once the city owns that land, it could sell it to the current tenants or, if the land is vacant, find developers.
Third on the list is “growth management” land on Yellowknife’s periphery that could be used for new homes, businesses, or tourism developments. None of the land in question is affected by the land claims process, the city said.
The briefing document prepared for councillors (p3-11 of this agenda) states the transfer would take place in two phases, together estimated to take around three and a half years to complete.
Phase one would move land that is already surveyed and titled, and is therefore essentially transfer-ready. Phase two would involve land that requires a legal survey, which will take time and money to complete.
Councillors must vote to approve the approach set out by city staff. City administrators say their plan “would give the city greater control of its land management system, promote long‐range community planning, streamline land development demands, and enable timely response to public land requests.”