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City’s draft zoning bylaw a step to smarter development, businesses say

The City’s new draft zoning bylaw shows a lot of promise for smarter development, Yellowknife business owners say.
The City of Yellowknife’s zoning bylaws draft proposes revitalizing the downtown by making development denser, permitting mixed development and urban agriculture in many zones and respecting the role of Indigenous peoples in development decisions. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

The City’s new draft zoning bylaw shows a lot of promise for smarter development, Yellowknife business owners say.

Unveiled on Aug. 24, the proposed rules would update the bylaws to comply with the 2020 Community Plan.

READ MORE: Zoning Bylaw Draft

READ MORE: 2020 Community Plan Bylaw

The proposed bylaws would revitalize the downtown by increasing development density, permitting mixed development in many zones, allowing urban agriculture in most zones and committing to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by respecting their role in development decisions.

The Ndilo zone isn’t part of the regulations as the City recognizes Yellowknives Dene authority over Ndilo.

The draft bylaw also has fewer zones (22) than the existing zoning bylaw, with 37.

The draft is the result of consultations the City conducted in 2020 with residents, businesses, community organizations and Indigenous governments, whose recommendations were incorporated into the proposed bylaws.

Robert Warburton, owner of real estate investment company CloudWorks was one of the business owners consulted on the draft.

He said he’s excited about the proposed changes.

“It meets all the goals I want to see from the community plan as an investor,” Warburton said.

“It eliminates some of the weird practical barriers to using properties to the full extent. For example: detached secondary suites, or little houses in your backyard. The old bylaws had that in there but the old rules make it very hard to build financially in the real world. They didn’t acknowledge the reality of financing a property. The new ones acknowledge that.”

Warburton further explained that detached secondary suites will be allowed in every zone of the city, potentially allowing everyone who owns a house to be a developer and not just the big companies.

“The secondary suites bylaw could allow 20 people to build 20 small homes in their backyard. That’s 20 more units per year. Now you don’t have to wait a decade for a big developer to come and build something. That’s exciting. And it costs no more land (and) no more infrastructure. You’re just using things better. Development doesn’t have to be a big huge dollar thing. You’re opening up a huge pool to help make the city denser.”

Another smart aspect of the bylaws that Warburton points to is the deregulation of parking spaces. Several types of businesses, services, public buildings and residential areas list “no minimum parking required” under their parking standards. That answers the priorities of the City’s Community Plan that seeks to curtail parking space construction and regulations.

“Half of downtown is basically a parking lot. Previous bylaws required significant parking (areas). But now you’re not required to have parking spots downtown. Removing that parking requirement downtown removes a lot of barriers to reusing and rebuilding properties. Now we’re not encouraging more surface parking lots which are horrible for our downtown,” Warburton said.

For Bullock’s Bistro owner Jo-Ann Martin, one of the strengths of the draft is the flexibility with zoning regulations, something that will be needed in the coming years as different types of businesses set up in Yellowknife.

Martin and her husband Mark Elson have since May been building a new bottling plant for their Bullock’s sauces in Kam Lake.

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While the path to setting up Great Slave Bottling Co. has mostly been smooth for them, the proposed bylaws would have sped up the process in their initial search for a site if the bylaws were already in force.

“We looked around and we were quick to learn we had didn’t have many options with full services. I think the new bylaws state which areas will have what. It will save time for people and give them more knowledge on what they can find. You don’t have to design a property to make it work, it will already be zoned for it because of the permitted uses,” Martin said.

“It could make things easier for us. Food processing is put in there with heavy duty industrial, which opens up more options. It will make it a lot more convenient for businesses like mine to know where in town they can build those businesses.”

The possibility of doing urban agriculture in most zones intrigues Kyle Thomas, co-owner of Bush Order Provisions.

Like Martin, he also recently set up part of his business in Kam Lake in the form of an urban farm.

But it’s too early for Thomas to know how the bylaws could affect him or future urban farmers.

The draft states that urban agriculture will be a permitted use in growth management areas which are normally intended for outdoor recreation or tourism purposes.

“It sounds great that they added urban agriculture to (those) zones, but if rocks have to be cleared then it’s not feasible on a commercial scale,” he said. “Hopefully what changes with the zoning bylaws is it making it more straightforward to go online or call someone and say I want to do something on this property.”

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce is preparing its draft submission to city council on the bylaws and isn’t prepared to comment until the draft is finished in September, said executive director Deneen Everett.

“The zoning bylaw is a very important issue for Yellowknife businesses and is one of our key advocacy priorities for the year,” she said.

Third reading by council is expected to happen sometime in January 2022, said Mayor Rebecca Alty.