The City of Yellowknife has updated its proposed zoning bylaw after opposition to aspects of the plan from residents in central areas and the Grace Lake neighbourhood.
A new version of the proposed bylaw, which will be presented to city councillors on Monday, reinstates a buffer zone north of Grace Lake and dials back the changes planned for some central residential areas.
The updated proposal creates a new zone, RC-1, that replaces the RC (or residential central) zone across much of central Yellowknife. It’s an attempt to address residents’ concerns that too many stores and office buildings could appear next to homes under the proposed RC zoning.
The RC zone allows the likes of cinemas, gyms, convenience stores, restaurants and bars, hotels, motels, and offices. RC-1 will allow none of those things.
RC-1 will instead promote a “minimal transition to a select mix of uses” that isn’t as broad as the RC zone, the city says in its updated draft of the zoning bylaw.
The change follows feedback such as an open letter from one resident who stated: “If I want to turn my property into a 24-hour pizza place or mini golf course, I will be able to do it without consulting my neighbours … the city is proposing major changes to our neighbourhoods, our quality of life, and the value of our homes.”
Some RC zoning still exists, though not nearly as much as was envisaged in the bylaw’s initial draft presented in August.
The city says that while the RC zone does allow commercial and office development, staff still expect most new developments to be housing.
“We expect to see residential construction first, as there is currently an acute housing shortage in Yellowknife, especially for rental units,” staff write in documents provided to councillors for consideration on Monday.
“Where buildings have recently burnt down, we expect to see those lots infilled first. We also expect to see community resource centres in the residential central zone, as well as daycares, as these uses are complimentary to residential uses, and the residential central area is very walkable and accessible to the downtown.”
Community resource centres are defined by the city as “an office or offices, meeting room, assembly area, or similar facility for the provision of social or cultural programming.”
The likelihood of new office space being built is low, the city adds, pointing to a near-absence of demand. A number of downtown office buildings have large amounts of free space or are entirely vacant.
RC-1 also limits the height of townhouses and apartment buildings to 12 metres, down from 45 metres in the RC zone.
Grace Lake amendment
In Grace Lake – Yellowknife’s newest residential area – residents complained that the vision they bought into several years ago was being eroded.
One letter to the city states: “We had no idea when we purchased our property that there would be a push by the city to place a very large industrial and commercial expansion directly adjacent to, and overlooking, the north side of our community of Grace Lake.”
Jackie, Paul, Granit, and Paige Hawthorn, Grace Lake residents, shared with Cabin Radio a letter to city council in which they urged the preservation of a buffer with the Kam Lake industrial zone to protect the environment and limit the impact of noise and pollution.
“We say we want to protect the environment, but the city talks out of one side of their mouth and then out of the other,” the letter reads.
“This is not the place for an industrial park. This is a place for more homes for more families to enjoy this amazing space with us.”
In response, the city has deleted the industrial zoning that was planned north of Grace Lake and replaced it with growth management, a type of zone that restricts most forms of development while leaving open the possibility of future land use in the area. In effect, the growth management zone acts as a buffer intended to maintain the status quo for the time being.
“After some consideration, we believe it best to pull back the proposed industrial zoning in the expansion area and leave the zoning at growth management,” the city stated. Staff say a future area development plan, which sets out the look and feel of a neighbourhood in greater detail, can “more accurately reflect” the “buffers, trail corridors, green space, and park lands” designed to separate Grace Lake from the Kam Lake industrial area.
‘I don’t see a negative here’
Other changes in the updated proposal include spelling out more clearly the need for a development permit if a developer intends to change the intensity of land use, such as from low-density to high-density residential.
The new draft also adds the wording: “The city acknowledges that the Yellowknives Dene First Nation has a right to self‐government. The city will work with the YKDFN on administration of lands which may be transferred to the YKDFN upon conclusion of the Treaty process.”
Overall, the city says its new bylaw is much simpler and clearer than the old one and will promote infill, the concept of filling in vacant central areas to make better use of land and more readily provide services.
Mayor Rebecca Alty on Friday shared to Facebook a series of photos titled “missing middle housing,” designed to convince residents that it is possible to “introduce gentle density while maintaining the character” of a neighbourhood.
Examples given in the images shared by Alty include existing duplexes and triplexes in the city’s Old Town and nearby neighbourhoods, as well as mixed commercial and residential developments like the Elke’s Table restaurant or Fiddles and Stix music store building.
Rob Warburton, the incoming Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president whose company owns and manages a range of Yellowknife properties, supports the infill concept.
He told Cabin Radio the new bylaw won’t just allow for new developments but will also permit people to use the space they already have more effectively, like adding a suite to their backyard or running a business from their home.
He believes the new bylaw can make the city more accessible, inclusive, and affordable.
“I don’t see a negative here, besides people that just don’t want the single-family house to change, which I don’t think is realistic in a growing community,” he said.
Warburton said the new zoning bylaw enacts changes already approved in the city’s latest community plan, which was adopted in 2020. That document, which will guide development in the city over the next 20 years, was based on consultation with residents that began in 2018.
“Every community changes and shifts,” Warburton said. “As our community changes then the properties change, and the buildings change, and the uses change. This is a very normal kind of growth and change in a community.”
Resident Tom McLennan, who says his petition in favour of the draft zoning bylaw has received dozens of signatures, said he supported changes such as streamlining the process of developing a downtown shelter.
In an email to Cabin Radio, McLennan said the new bylaw proposes to “open pathways for creative housing developments that can lower rental and ownership costs and create more options to address the current and future issues facing Yellowknife.”
He wrote: “Maintaining barriers and limiting flexibility does not create an environment conducive to progress.
“We should not restrict innovation in fear of some extremely unlikely worst-case scenario.”
City councillors will consider the latest version of the draft bylaw from noon on Monday.
Residents can still submit feedback. The city says responses will be considered during a statutory public hearing regarding the new bylaw to be held on November 27.
To share feedback, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (867) 920-5600.
Emily Blake contributed reporting.