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Land-hoarding GNWT will drive up taxes: council
James Hiebert home and looking to help

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The territorial government's reluctance to hand over land to bolster the city's land supply may lead to higher property taxes, say some city councillors.

NNSL photo/graphic

Couns. Cory Vanthuyne, left, Dan Wong and Phil Moon Son, and senior administrative officer Dennis Kefalas discuss land acquisition from the GNWT at Monday's council meeting. - Elaine Anselmi/NNSL photo

"We're often criticized that the city is at fault for driving up the market on land because we're the managers of the land," said Coun. Cory Vanthuyne during the Municipal Services Committee meeting on Monday.

"A lot of the land we're trying to access, we're not able to get access to in a timely matter and therefore land isn't as abundant as we'd like it to be. Consequently, we're feeling the pinch when it comes to how valuable our land is."

In the past, the city has submitted general land applications that cover various parcels the city hopes to take from the government, said Mayor Mark Heyck. Those applications were handled by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) but, following devolution, were shifted over to the newly formed Department of Lands.

"The Department of Lands has expressed to us that they would prefer we apply for specific parcels, one at a time," said Heyck.

"It's been a longstanding challenge for the city, not just since April 1, in terms of acquiring land to plan for future growth. We've been more successful at times than others, in terms of getting larger parcels of land that allow us to do more long-range planning, whether for commercial, industrial or residential use."

A Greater Land Application, approved by council in October 2013, was returned by the GNWT with a request to resubmit separate applications for each parcel, said Jeff Humble, director of planning and development. The city has been granted two areas around Grace Lake, leases adjacent to the McMeekan Causeway and the Woodyard, as well as some parcels around the landfill site.

"It's fair to say that other land we've applied for, we've not been granted and continue to work to try to get those," said Humble.

"With devolution and the changes that have taken place there, progress is perhaps not coming as quickly as expected on some of these applications."

Councillors pointed to the stalled development of land around Con Mine, slowed by the remediation process, as a major challenge for growth.

"With the Taylor Road lands, this is kind of an impending disaster if we can't get moving on our next parcel of land following the Grace Lake lots," said Coun. Adrian Bell.

"Does the GNWT Department of Lands have an understanding of the pinch described by Coun.Vanthuyne; the inflationary pressures being applied to the market as a result of this lack of supplied land?"

While Heyck agreed a lack of available land would drive up market value, he did not feel the city was there yet. He pointed to lots available in Niven Lake and Phase V of Niven Lake, Block 501 and both the north and south sides of Grace Lake as active developments.

"Certainly land for more traditional stick-built homes, that is going to become more scarce in the next year or two as Niven Lake fills up and Grace Lake comes forward," said Heyck.

"We would like to begin the planning for the next residential subdivision that would see that kind of single family home develop."

With major projects potentially bringing more people to Yellowknife in the coming years, such as the hospital expansion, mine remediation project, and forthcoming mines and mine expansions, Vanthuyne said this sort of development is necessary to accommodate population growth.

"It's critical that we be prepared and the only way we can be prepared to provide suitable and adequate housing is to have the necessary lands," said Vanthuyne.

Agreeing with the need to continue to push for new land before the current development wraps up, Bell said he looked forward to seeing the subject as a regular item on the council's agenda.

"We're in a situation here where we don't have raw land to put in the hopper. We don't know what we're going to be doing after Grace Lake is done," said Bell.

"The GNWT has expressed a desire to grow and we've missed the boat many times in the past on potential growth through not having suitable land available. We're facing down the barrel of that gun, so we've got to see this for what it is and start taking very real steps to take this seriously and get something done."

Officials with the Department of Land did not comment before press time.

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