Council nixes WCB plans
Mike W. Bryant
Council narrowly approved the re-zoning on first reading, Oct. 24, but by Monday night's second reading of the bylaw, all four in favour had changed their minds after facing heavy pressure from Yellowknife's downtown business community.
Only Coun. Blake Lyons, who wasn't present at the October meeting, voted for the project in the 7-1 decision, saying he liked WCB's proposal.
Couns. Kevin O'Reilly, Wendy Bisaro, Bob Brooks and Doug Witty all changed their votes. The zoning application now has little chance of passing.
Opponents to the project feared WCB's exodus from Centre Square Tower, where they occupy four floors, would diminish the vibrancy of the city's central business and office district.
The WCB say it's running out of room at Centre Square, and can't find any suitable locations to purchase downtown.
WCB spokesperson Dave Grundy said he wasn't surprised by council's decision, Monday.
"I personally had a sense that they would vote it down, based on comments from the public," said Grundy.
He said the WCB's board of governors will now have to mull over its options. At a public hearing last November, WCB president David Clark suggested that council didn't have the authority under territorial legislation to tell the WCB where it could go.
Grundy said he doubted the WCB will take the city to court, but that would be up to the board.
The proposed site, which is owned by Rick Holdings, is zoned for commercial use only, which rules out stand-alone office buildings. To move there, WCB needed a site-specific re-zoning from council.
Coun. Alan Woytuik said he's worried council has approved too many site-specific re-zonings already - up to seven now, he believes, including Phase VI of the Niven Lake subdivision last year.
"It doesn't make sense to move those jobs out of the downtown core," said Woytuik.
"It sets a bad precedent."
O'Reilly, meanwhile, slammed the way council handled the public hearing process, which was changed without public debate before rulings could be made on November's WCB hearing.
Under the old system, council passed point-by-point judgments on presentations made during public hearings into re-zoning applications. But changes made to the territorial Cities, Towns and Villages Act last year no longer required municipal governments to do that.
Instead, council was allowed to its a condensed version of its rulings, which some said is less onerous than the old method but just as accountable.
"I believe at some point it's going to lead to a legal challenge and certainly more development appeals," said O'Reilly, however.
Mike Byrne, a former city councillor, scolded council for making the change, saying it only pays "lip service" to the public hearing process, and "undermines the credibility and transparency" of long established practices.
Council later accepted a notice of motion from Coun. Wendy Bisaro, calling for a review of the way the city conducts public hearings.