Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

City Briefs: No Decisions on Grace Lake South or Downtown

Send it back! Trail or park for YK's upscale new subdivision? And should the City buy more downtown land? An election-poised council makes few big decisions.

City council opted for another breather in their halting chug towards opening up the south side of Grace Lake for residential development, choosing to send a slew of bylaws back to administration rather than vote on them.

The main issue, this time around, wasn’t the cost of trucking water and sewage to and from the planned 85-lot development, nor whether the City should be opening up estate-sized lots on the edge of town rather than focusing on infilling. This time, council was wondering whether to leave the GNWT-mandated 100-foot buffer between the development and the lake (to be used as a trail) as is.

Coun. Adrian Bell kicked things off: instead of running a trail around the lake in the 100-foot buffer zone, the City should set aside waterfront park space in the new development, then let the properties run to the lake, he argued. “Far better than having the 100-foot buffer would be to take two or three contiguous lots at some point in the neighbourhood and make a nice park.”

And why’s that?

Well it’s rather rocky along the shore’s edge, said Bell. “What we’re talking about here is not a new Niven Lake or Frame Lake Trail, it’s an area that’s going to be accessible only to those who are willing to gear up with rock climbing equipment and get a little extreme in there.”

And, of course, it would be nice for would-be property owners in what’s expected to be YK’s swankiest new neighbourhood to have uninterrupted waterfront access from their properties – a point picked up by Coun. Niels Konge.

“People want to be on the water,“ said Konge. “As a city we can work with the GNWT to provide the type of thing people want so that they stay here. Perhaps the new Lands Department has lost sight of the fact that we need 2000 people” to move to the territory.

Coun. Dan Wong, of the pro-trail camp, wasn’t convinced about Bell’s description of the “extreme” shoreline. He went to check it out on Tuesday, and sent EDGE this (unsolicited) description: “I came for the thrills. Geared up to summit some peaks and traverse the gorges… Unfortunately, no formidable cliffs were found, nor was the route any more challenging than the wild, rugged and well used Frame Lake trail, Tin Can Hill, or Twin Pine Hill. Like Frame Lake, a few strategically placed stairs and boardwalks could improve accessibility in a big way… It’s a small ridge you follow just off the water’s edge that affords panoramic views across and down the lake.”

Sounds like a nice spot for a trail! (Albeit seen through the eyes of a councillor pushing for it.)

In the end, rather than making up their mind, Council opted to send all relevant bylaws pertaining to Grace Lake South back to administration, in hopes that they’ll be able to wrangle concessions out of the GWNT regarding the 100-foot buffer. The odds, however, don’t look great; the City’s senior administrative officer, Dennis Kefalas, has already put in an unsuccessful request to the GNWT to access the waterfront land.

Throughout the debate, Mayor Mark Heyck appeared to become increasingly frustrated and curt in his responses. ‘Come on,’ his body language seemed to say, ‘we’ve been working on this for over a year and all we need to do is pass a few bylaws rezoning land and we can get on developing Grace Lake phase one like we all agreed to do last November.’

Alas, not the mayor’s day. Back to the drawing board, Grace Lake!

Money for downtown? More time needed.

Not content to send only one set of things back to admin, Council also declined to vote on whether to begin shuffling money made through land sales into a pot earmarked for revitalization-focused land assembly downtown.

The proposal from administration (lumped in with the Grace Lake motions and later broken into two parts) was:

a) To identify parcels of land the City could buy in order to “support revitalization opportunities” (i.e. Downtown) prior to investing in additional “greenfield” subdivisions beyond Grace Lake.”

b) To establish a reserve account to fund these “revitalization initiative” land acquisitions, which would have “30% of all future Land Development Fund revenues allocated to it.”

Too much development is being funneled to the suburban edges of Yellowknife, draining the (supposedly revitalizing) residential population from downtown, the proposal’s logic goes. Earmarking money the City could use to acquire, package, then resell lots downtown is one way of making the area more attractive to would-be developers, hopefully.

Several councillors liked the idea of a revitalization reserve fund, but didn’t think land assembly was the way to go. Put these funds “towards the social issues committee or municipal enforcement for more downtown walking patrols,” suggested Coun. Phil Moon Son. Other councillors, namely Konge, outright rejected the idea of moving money from land sales in one area of town to downtown without specific projects in mind.  Money from land sales should be used to enhance the neighborhoods where the sales took place, he argued; in the case of Grace Lake South, land sales should fund fire hydrants and water lines.

Ultimately, once again, council couldn’t come to a decision, so sent it back to administration for clarification.

“There’s no rush,” said Coun. Cory Vanthuyne. Rather than voting on it during the discussion of Grace Lake, why not bring “it back as a motion on its own and have a more fulsome conversation”?

No love for Latham Proposal

Of course council did get a number of things done at Monday’s meeting. They approved a tax exemption for the Habitat for Humanity-run ReStore (which will help generate money for the charity by selling recycled building equipment), agreed to a five-year reduced lease rate for the proposed Grace Lake South golf course and opened up Old Airport Road to residential development (much to Bell’s chagrin: “We’re not backing up our own [downtown-centric] grant initiatives by being firm about where we’d like to see development happen.”)

Also, with surprising promptness, council shot down a proposal from Coun. Phil Moon Son to acquire then sell off land along the controversial strip of Latham Island shoreline between Lessard Drive and Watt Drive Park. No one seconded the motion and it died before it was even discussed.