Opposing councillors of a newly proposed multi-family dwelling development on School Draw Avenue attempted to put a last-minute stop to its approval at Monday night’s regular council meeting.
But in the end, a majority of councillors accepted a motion that approved a four-storey, 65-unit apartment development by Mike Mrdjenovich at the old Bartam Trailer Park as similar use to multi-attached dwelling already existing in the neighbourhood. Mayor Rebecca Alty as well as Couns. Niels Konge, Steve Payne, Robin Williams and Cynthia Mufandaedza all voted in favour of the proposal.
Couns. Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse voted against it. Stacie Smith, who had also opposed it at last week’s government priorities committee meeting, was absent. Rommel Silverio was also not present.
Morgan argued the proposal isn’t following the city’s current plan – the 2011 General Plan – which designates the property as Old Town -Mixed Use. In that plan there are permitted uses and conditionally permitted uses which council can vote on – including multi-attached dwellings or townhouses – as long as they are under three storeys tall.
“But nowhere under permitted or conditionally permitted is there an apartment building,” Morgan noted.
“Administration is arguing, as are others on council, that a multi-family building could fit under the clause of something that’s similar to other things that are allowed. The argument is that a 65-unit apartment building is similar enough to low density townhouses.”
Council has approved the 2019 Community Plan which puts the area in a new zone called Central Residential, but that document is awaiting ministerial approval. Morgan said council could wait for that approval at which time an apartment building may be more appropriate under different guidelines.
“My concern is that many people in the city will perceive that the city is trying to break its own rules, and that the city is trying to make exceptions for developers,” she said.
She said during the meeting that even though city planners and legal experts were advising to move ahead with the project, she believed it to be a mistake.
“I believe a legal error is being made and I feel it’s quite likely, actually, that this will go to the development appeal board and that the city will lose,” she said.
Morgan asked city staff members if they felt it was appropriate to use the similar use clause in the zoning bylaw given that the lot is still technically in Old Town and that apartment buildings are designated for use in other areas of the city.
Rob Lok, manager of planning and lands, and Kerry Penney, director of economic development and strategy, both said it was the best option.
“When we look at the direction that’s available in the (2011) general plan regarding the high priority development that this site is, we feel it qualifies as a similar use,” Lok said.
Coun. Julian Morse agreed with Morgan, stating that he also doesn’t see similar use of the proposed apartment building to anything else existing in Old Town.
“I want to be clear that it’s not the nature of the development itself, it’s not the nature of increasing density per se,” he said. “It’s just simply that I don’t think the building is a similar use to buildings in the Old Town zone. ”
Mayor Rebecca Alty, along with other councillors said she doesn’t think approving the proposal breaks territorial legislation and pointed out that the GNWT Community Planning and Development Act and the city’s zoning bylaw both allow for similar use. Both multi-family dwellings and multi-attached dwellings are similar in “purpose and character” in that they are multi-unit residential, she said.
“Similar use is about determining whether or not a specific use of land or a building that’s not defined in that zone is similar in character and purpose to another use of land or building that’s included in that zone,” she said.
Alty spoke to the notion that some councillors feared that the new apartment building might change the character of the neighbourhood because of its size and style of building.
“Will this apartment building change the character of the neighborhood? I don’t think so,” Alty said. “And it’ll add community in the area. In talking to residents who rent, they’re excited about this development. They look forward to one day having the opportunity to live across from Great Slave Lake and to be able to walk out their door and go skiing in the winter or paddleboarding in the summer or to walk to the Racquet Club to go to the gym or play ball in the summer or to walk to the brew pub and other restaurants in the area.”