Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

City Briefs: Fear of a Second Downtown

Bartesko Court is shut down, while Old Airport Road gets opened up for multi-family development

Bartesko Court down for the count

A long-standing fight pitting developer’s rights against neighbourhood complaints was resolved, once again, in favour of the neighbourhood on Monday. At this week’s Municipal Services Committee meeting, council shot down TC Enterprises’ most recent plans for Bartesko Court, a large, half-empty lot in the Borden Drive area that the developer has been trying to rezone for nearly 15 years.

“I’m not angry, but I’m disappointed,” said TC president Tony Chang, “I’ll move on to other places… but it’s a $8 or $9 million project so that’s a lot of taxes they’re going to lose.”

TC’s previous plans — for a four-storey apartment with 48 units or a three-storey building with 40 units — were shot down twice in the past year; and these only the most recent attempts in a decade and a half of rezoning requests. The failure of the latest proposal, to build six two-storey fourplexes around a central courtyard, stung even harder, as it had been endorsed by City administration.

“The density that’s proposed is more than reasonable with regards to what is on the market,” said the City’s director of planning Jeff Humble. He pointed out that the proposed development was already in an identified infill area and was smaller, lower to the ground and less likely to cause traffic problems than other recent developments council had approved.

Still, this wasn’t enough to convince the majority of councillors.

“We’re supposed to be supporting urban or downtown compact growth, not jamming more sardines in the can out in the suburban end of town,” said coun. Cory Vanthuyne. “Why would we encourage higher density development in a perfectly developed neighbourhood, when downtown lacks such density and is need of further compact growth?”

For coun. Adrian Bell, the developer’s rights had been weighed against the neighbourhood’s and found wanting.

“If we approve this motion, we’ll be saying the needs of the developers outweigh the needs of the neighbours. We honestly can’t say that the community’s needs have a bearing on this. I think that’s disingenuous. The community doesn’t need this, it has other options, and the vacancy rate is higher than it’s been in 15 years.”

For Chang, the no vote was another expensive setback; he said he’s spent between $60,000 and $80,000 on different plans for the property over the past several years, all of which have been nixed by council. And he suspects the councillors who spoke against his fourplex plan had their minds made up before they even saw the proposal — “everything the residents wanted we made happen. If that’s not a compromise I don’t know what is.”

The fate of Bartesko Court remains uncertain. Chang says he’s not sure what he’s going to do with the property, though he says he may level it and turn it into a parking lot.

Two downtowns?

A section of Old Airport Road by the hospital will soon be open for multi-family residence development following a dramatic vote that saw one councillor forecast the death of downtown revitalization.

“We’re going to look back at this and say this is when council turned its back on the downtown and said, let’s go for two downtowns,” said coun. Adrian Bell.

The motion to allow conditionally approved residential building between Byrne Road and Borden Drive split council down the middle, forcing Mayor Mark Heyck to cast the tie-breaking vote.

For the four councillors who opposed it, opening up more areas for residential development would undermine council’s attempts to direct residential development towards the downtown core.

“The vast quantities of money we’ve invested in property under the rubric of protecting and strategically targeting [downtown], we’re abandoning that if we pass this right now,” said Bell.

For those who agreed with the motion, it was about providing options to residents and sending the message that Yellowknife is open for development.

“It’s not up to us to restrict where people, or how people, live,” said coun. Niels Konge. Coun. Rebecca Alty argued that opening more land might even bolster downtown development by deflating the price of land.

When it came down to the mayor’s tie-breaking vote, Heyck suggested that there was little to worry about given that any residential development along Old Airport Road still requires approval from council. Furthermore, he argued, “it’s in close proximity to existing infrastructure, so rather than building multifamily developments on the outskirts of town that might require costly extensions or expansions of our municipal infrastructure, this is within a developed part of the city and is much more manageable and financially feasible over the long term.”

Despite the doom and gloom of the anti-Old Airport Roaders, the motion also included a change to tax incentives for downtown developers, a move supported unanimously by council.

In the past, developers received tax abatements over a five-year period once they completed building. This works fine for apartment builders, who retain ownership of the building, but provides little financial benefit to condo developers ,who generally don’t own the property after the project is complete.

The new system, agreed to on Monday, will allow developers to receive their five-year tax abatement in the form of an upfront payment refund “on the present value of the projected tax abatement in the first year in which the abatement is eligible.“

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