Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

Council Briefs: Nov. 24 – Sunday bar rounds could be on the way

 

Yellowknife bars may soon be allowed to keep the taps running all weekend, if council passes a bylaw permitting bars and pubs to operate on Sundays and holidays.

As it stands, restaurants, clubs and temporary liquor providers operate seven days a week, but bars and pubs – Class A liquor licences – can’t serve on most Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas day. They are allowed 10 Sundays a year, but need to give two weeks notice to liquor inspectors.

Jason Perrino, co-owner of After 8 Pub, bemoaned the laws at Monday’s Municipal Services Committee Meeting.

“I’m not asking for anything different than what others already have,” he said. “I just want to also have what others have.”

He illustrated his point with a humorous description of a liquor-filled Sunday: you could start drinking at a restaurant, so long as you buy food, saunter over to the bowling alley for a beer, so long as you bowl a game, then go drinking at the Racquet Club, as long as you’re a paid-up member.

“If everyone else can sell alcohol seven days a week, then why can’t I?” he asked.

City councillors seemed interested in Perrino’s suggestion and tasked administration with looking into a change. Several even joked about extending the hours of bar operations while they were at it.

It’s well within the City’s power to change the rules. The NWT Liquor Act gives municipalities the ability to pass bylaws about hours or operation, sales on Sundays and holidays, and other regulations. If council wanted, they could make Yellowknife a dry community or allow bars to stay open 24 hours a day.

Should the City’s bylaw contradict something in the act, it says “the provision of the bylaw prevails.”

Decision for indecision on the Canada Winter Games

Call it timorous or prudent, but council refrained from a direct vote on the Canada Winter Games on Monday, deciding instead to form a working group to look at the feasibility of the games.

The decision to start setting aside hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to pay for $10 million worth of infrastructure was also kicked down the field.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to support or not support it at the moment,” said Coun. Bob Brooks, who nixed the motion to start saving for the games until further notice. “Depending on what happens with the task force, (the cost of the project) may change … the whole thing may be changed,” he said, adding he felt it more appropriate for the next council to make the decision about whether to proceed with the games.

Council’s decision for more indecision followed a long discussion at the Municipal Services Committee meeting earlier Monday where it became clear councillors didn’t trust the $52.4 million cost for the games that administration was quoting.

With the cost of upgrading the Ruth Inch Pool left off the estimates and the price of an athlete’s village very much up for debate, the amount is certainly unclear.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in the numbers in front of me, that we can do these games for $52 million,” said Coun. Niels Konge, comparing it to the $120-million cost of the 2007 Whitehorse Games.

Most councillors shared this uncertainty – as Coun. Adrian Bell put it ”there’s a huge chasm between what administration knows about this possible project and what council knows.”

There was a palpable enthusiasm for the project amongst councillors, but they were hesitant to proceed without more information about the costs and level of community support.

Bell’s gas crusade goes bust

Bell’s attempt to get City administration to look into Yellowknife gas prices was shot down by councillors who felt the plan was either redundant or overly intrusive.

In addition, prices at pumps around town have been dropping steadily over the past week.

“We need to find out from the retailer how they’re pricing their gas,” argued Bell. “If we don’t see the type of pricing practices we like, we can work with them to try and adopt different pricing practices.”

He even suggested that complaints to the federal competition bureau may be in order to stimulate market forces that should be keeping the prices in check.

Several councillors supported Bell in theory. However, last week councillors received a letter leaked from the GNWT’s department of Municipal and Community Affairs, outlining MACA’s plan to investigate Yellowknife retailers.

“I would have supported it,” said Coun. Rebecca Alty, “but with the letter from the minister of MACA last week … I think it would be redundant to have our staff do the same work.”

Coun. Cory Vanthuyne disagreed with Bell from another angle. “This motion is risky, as it relates to our local order of government to potentially start to delve into our local business affairs … I feel that the free market makes appropriate adjustments when need be.”

In the end, Brooks, Bell and Coun. Phil Moon Son voted in favour of the motion.

Grace Lake subdivision a go

City council approved the development of 30 new houses along the south side of Grace Lake on Monday.

Construction on Phase 1 of the project, which will eventually include 85 lots and a golf course, is set to begin next summer. However, council still needs to amend the General Plan and pass a zoning bylaw.

“Waterfront lots alongside large lots, have been requested from residents in this city for a couple generations now,” said Vanthuyne. “This is not us foregoing some other priority (like) downtown initiatives … This is identifying with what residents have wanted for a long time in this city.”

There was, however, some skepticism about the project from councillors, mostly regarding the cost of trucking water and sewage to and from the development.

Because of the rocky terrain, distance from existing infrastructure and the low density of the development, piping is prohibitively expensive. Every linear metre of pipe, for example, costs between $4,000 and $5,000 to install, which would mean between $2.2-$3 million for Phase 1 of Grace Lake South, or about $73,000 to $100,000 per lot.

Trucking the water and sewage will save on that initial infrastructure, but cost around 2.5 times as much on an ongoing operational basis. On average, the City subsidizes properties using trucked water and sewer by $600 a year.

As a condition of approval, council added an amendment asking administration to look into fees and subsidies for trucking water and sewage.

“Clearly there’s a demand, but I don’t think we ought to build them for the reason that’s there’s a demand. That’s a luxury that right now we can’t afford,” said Coun. Dan Wong, who was only person to vote against the development.

“The water delivery to new subdivisions within Yellowknife should not be subsidized,” said Konge, who supported the development but said property owners should bear the full cost of trucking water and sewage.”