Yellowknife's City Hall. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife councillors praised plans to transfer ownership of a large portion of land within municipal bounds to the city, a move several years in the making.
On Monday, councillors discussed a proposal that will see the city ask the territorial government to transfer approximately 4,600 hectares of land in a phased approach. City officials say that’s needed for community planning as the amount of city-owned land available for development has decreased over the years.
“I think that this is a long time overdue,” Councillor Niels Konge said.
“I don’t think I realized before I came on council, in 2012, how big a problem this was for the city.”
Currently, the city owns only approximately 11 percent of land within Yellowknife’s boundaries, while 75 percent is commissioner’s land – public land held and administered by the NWT government. The rest is federally or privately owned.
The plan to ask for a bulk transfer of commissioner’s land marks a stark change from the city’s current process for acquiring land. Until now, the city was required to used a piecemeal approach, requesting specific parcels of land as needed for development or infrastructure.
The current practice, city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said, can be time-consuming, takes a lot of staff resources, and ties the city’s hands when it comes to development. Mayor Rebecca Alty highlighted one incident where it took the territorial government more than a year to respond about leasing land for a quarry, by which time the proposed developer had moved on.
Alty said in those cases it’s not just the city that loses out, it also means lost income and corporate tax for the territorial government and it could mean the loss of potential federal transfers.
Additionally, the land beneath some of the city’s roads is still commissioner’s land. When the municipality has to work on the roads or nearby infrastructure, like electrical lines or pipelines, that can create problems.
The new approach is intended to expedite the land transfer process. Alty said it reflects the principle of devolving land through layers of government, meaning decision-making is made closest to the people.
“We’re aiming big,” Bassi-Kellett told councillors of the new plan.
“This is pretty exciting to see come forward,” Councillor Steve Payne said.
The NWT government has indicated it supports transferring lands the city has earmarked. The two governments are working toward a memorandum of understanding.
“I’m very pleased the GNWT has finally seen the light,” Konge said, though both he and Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza said they’re not holding their breath on when the land transfer will be finalized.
The Department of Lands said in a statement it has been transferring specific parcels of land to the city since 1970. It described the proposed bulk transfer as “a complicated process” that involves territorial departments, Indigenous governments, and the city. None of the land being requested is within Akaitcho interim land withdrawal areas.