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No Net Zero for you — Inuvik Town Council denies energy efficient housing proposal

Parks Canada had proposed to build Net Zero duplex in Carmichael Drive area
Concept art of a proposed net zero duplex to house Parks Canada employees in the Carmichael Drive area has been turned down by Town Council. Parks Canada had purchased the lots with the intent of building the specially designed energy efficient building in 2022, but will likely take the design to another community. photo courtesy of Town of Inuvik

A proposed “net zero” duplex that would have saved taxpayers $12,000 a year and would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions in Inuvik by 17 tonnes per year has been given the thumbs-down by Town Council.

Councillors voted unanimously on May 26 to deny a zoning exemption application by Parks Canada to use two lots they own in the Carmichael Drive area to construct a duplex for its staff after receiving several letters and a verbal presentation from homeowners in opposition to the idea.

“It seems not that long ago that we were all meeting in person packing the chamber,” said Matthew Miller, who spoke to council in opposition of the development. “I believe we had the majority of Carmichael Drive attend at that time voicing the opposition to having modular homes or duplexes.

“Carmichael Drive right now is probably the top neighbourhood for anyone looking to build a single dwelling home. It may be in the not too distant future there’s only so many prep lots that will will go around.

“I’m totally in favour of development and providing proper housing to residents in the town but in this situation any new construction should fit within the neighbourhood.”

Mayor Natasha Kulikowski told council the town had also received five additional written submissions with regards to the proposal.

‘Net zero’ means the greenhouse gas emissions from the building are effectively cancelled out by energy efficiency systems, making the building carbon-neutral.

Carmichael Drive is zoned strictly for residential low-density, meaning only single-unit dwellings, religious establishments, playgrounds and public buildings can be built there without approval from council. A previous request for an exemption to allow for RCMP housing in 2019 was met with fierce opposition from homeowners on Carmichael Drive. The RCMP housing has yet to be fully completed.

Noting the current homes Parks Canada has to house its staff are repurposed public works buildings which are highly energy inefficient, asset manager Alex Lothian showed council a presentation explaining their position.

A legislative mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030 across all federal government departments has left Parks Canada working to upgrade its equipment. A huge source of Parks Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions — approximately 620 tonnes of carbon dioxide — comes from the housing they use for their staff, many of which are in dire need of an upgrade.

Lothian noted the building was designed with high-quality in mind and would not only greatly reduce the pollutants emitted into the atmosphere from Inuvik but also would save the department at least $12,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs.

He added Parks had worked with the town administration on the plan and was told no other lots in the town were feasible for the project, though he also floated the offer of “trading” the lot Parks owns in Carmichael for a less offensive location.

“We were looking for zone to duplex ready sights and we couldn’t find any,” said Lothian. “We own the lots currently on Carmichael drive and they’re potentially suitable for a duplex, if you guys agree, then replacing our houses in Inuvik, which are some of our most inefficient houses that Parks Canada have.

“It really does make a big dent on the greenhouse gas emissions.”

Parks Canada has been in operation in Inuvik since 1986. It owns six homes in Inuvik, on top of the lots in question.

Had the town approved the plan, Lothian said Parks would then begin demolishing its other old homes and replacing them with similar net zero homes.

“We’ve got a couple of other houses on Spruce Hill that are side by side that once we’ve once — if we had another duplex on Carmichael — then we’d have capacity to start removing those two houses,” he said. “If we could get funding that’s where our next duplex would want to be.

“I note that this is a special project for a very highly energy efficient home or duplex. It’s not your run-of-the-mill government housing project, it’s going to be a premium home.”

Had council approved the exemption, the net zero duplex would have been constructed on thse lots on Carmichael Drive. Parks Canada had purchased the lots several months back while working with town administration. photo courtesy of Town of Inuvik
Had council approved the exemption, the net zero duplex would have been constructed on the lots on Carmichael Drive highlighted in blue. Parks Canada had purchased the lots several months back while working with town administration. photo courtesy of Town of Inuvik

The net zero home itself was in fact designed by Parks Canada with grant funding. The design has been made with northern climates in mind and could be replicated across the Arctic. A duplex structure was determined to provide the best net-savings in heating, electrical and construction costs. Lothian said similar homes are to be constructed in Tulita and Pond Inlet, Nunavut in the next few years. Had council approved the project, construction would have begun in 2022.

“We received funding really for only one pilot project so if we can’t move forward in Inuvik that will likely go to another community.”

Pointing out that Parks Canada was aware of a previous denial of exemption request to the RCMP to build eight duplexes on the road, Councillor Clarence Wood said he wasn’t convinced.

“I like the idea of net zero housing. I think that’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “But I also think in light of the decision we made regarding the RCMP duplex I’d be a bit of a hypocrite sitting here now and saying ‘Okay Parks Canada you can go ahead but we didn’t want the RCMP to do it.’

“It doesn’t seem fair to me and the neighbourhood itself is against this from all indications I’ve had, so really there’s been nothing to change my mind.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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