The owner of Narwal Northern Adventures wants to buy a plot of land next to her property, but the City of Yellowknife says allowing it would “set an inappropriate precedent” for home-based businesses in Old Town.
Cathy Allooloo’s business offers canoe and kayak instruction, rentals, and tours from her property on Anderson Thomson Boulevard, alongside a bed-and-breakfast.
She now wants to buy a 567 square-metre portion of adjacent city land to prevent her home’s crawl space flooding during spring melt or heavy rain.
Allooloo says having the land will also help to reduce her company’s impact on the neighbourhood by providing a space to park trailers.
The decision is city council’s to make. City staff this week advised councillors against selling the land, saying Narwal already contravenes some bylaws and an unwanted precedent could be set.
In a briefing note, the city said Allooloo’s business exceeds the number of staff allowed for a home-based business and the trailers are currently parked on the road, contrary to Yellowknife’s bylaws. The city also has concerns about off-site parking.
City staff say further development of Narwal’s site, and the adjacent lot, may conflict with Yellowknife’s 2020 community plan – which states commercial operations in Old Town should be concentrated along main corridors.
“It’s terrific when we see businesses develop in Yellowknife and, when businesses grow beyond the parameters for a home-based business, we encourage business owners to look at options that are legitimate for expansion,” city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett told councillors on Monday.
Bassi-Kellett said the city had received complaints after other tour operators expanded their operations in residential neighbourhoods, over issues like parking or vehicles idling at night.
During a discussion on Monday, councillors expressed mixed views about Narwal’s request. Several were confused about the alternatives.
City staff recommend that Allooloo’s existing property be rezoned to allow for commercial and residential use, so the business is in compliance with city bylaws. They also suggest that Alloloo purchase the land in front of her property that stretches to the waterfront, which is land regulated by the NWT government.
“We’re not asking her to pick up shop and sell her property and move someplace else,” Bassi-Kellett told Cabin Radio. “We’re looking at how do we support her in doing this, in a way that’s going to be legitimate, and ensure that the neighbourhood is able to participate in the regulatory process.”
Allooloo rejected the city’s pitch, however, saying it would involve a lengthy process and be more invasive for the neighbourhood than purchasing a small lot that she argues is tucked out of sight.
She said her waterfront dock is currently accessible to the public and the Back Bay Community Association supports her request.
Asked what she would do if city councillors deny her request, Allooloo said she would continue to operate her business as she has for the past 30 years.
Meanwhile, the lot Allooloo wants to buy is currently zoned as a nature preserve, a type of zoning intended to preserve the natural characteristics of an area and allow for public outdoor access.
Mayor Rebecca Alty noted the city is in the process of overhauling its zoning bylaw. She said Allooloo and the community association could request that the land be rezoned, then she could resubmit her request to buy the lot.
Councillor Julian Morse said he feels that’s a “reasonable” option. He doesn’t believe the land Allooloo is requesting is valuable for public use, nor that the business is “egregiously encroaching” on public property.
“I don’t think there really is a better use for this land, so I don’t see any major problems with the idea of allowing them to expand the lot a little bit to allow them to run a business that they’ve been running for quite a long time,” he said.
Robin Williams agreed, saying the city shouldn’t place obstacles in front of a longtime business.
Councillors Shauna Morgan and Niels Konge, however, expressed concern that selling the land would set the precedent of supporting non-compliant encroachment on city lands.
“I think it’s a pretty slippery slope that when there are encroachments, we support selling the land so there are no longer encroachments,” Konge said, adding he hopes city staff and Allooloo can come to an alternative agreement.
City councillors will vote on the proposal at their next regular meeting on Monday.