Yellowknife’s city council has taken a first tentative step towards approving the construction of a new university campus on Tin Can Hill despite widespread opposition from Yellowknife residents.

Council voted on Monday night to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the GNWT for the construction of a campus for the planned new polytechnic university. The MOU is not legally binding, and any new construction would need to conform to both the zoning bylaw and the Yellowknife Community Plan.

The green space on Tin Can Hill is Aurora College’s choice for the location of the new school.

Prior to the vote, about a dozen residents stepped up to the microphone in council chambers to weigh in on the move, with the vast majority being critical of the location.

Most of those who spoke were concerned about the loss of green space that would result from the project. Resident Alan Gofenko said he frequents the site twice daily throughout the year. “The modification of this site, no matter how great the intentions, will negatively impact recreational users forever,” he said. “We love this parcel of land the way it is, and we don’t want to lose any of it any more than we already have.”

Gofenko is the author of a petition opposing the choice of location, which garnered just over 700 signatures as of the morning of June 7.

With the project so early in its development, there is no plan for what the campus would look like, or for how much greenspace would be preserved.

Some residents were also upset that the City of Yellowknife would be giving the land to the GNWT for free. Should it be a public institution, which is anticipated, the university would not be taxed but would pay grants-in-lieu of taxes, according to city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

Although the terrain would be available for the GNWT to use at no cost, Mayor Rebecca Alty emphasized that the municipality would still have control of that territory.

Coun. Julian Morse proposed an amendment to the MOU, which was later approved, that “each new development should complement the natural setting through the careful siting of buildings, protection of existing vegetation, provision of landscaping and connections to a public trail system.”

He said the purpose of the amendment was to “ensure that the the MOU, as written, does acknowledge the need for the site to be integrated with the natural setting if it’s going to be developed.”

The motion to sign the MOU was opposed only by deputy mayor Stacie Smith. Having lived in the Con Mine area for nearly 40 years, “the rockface of Tin Can Hill was my jungle gym, and the trails were my playground,” said Smith. “I want residents to know that we’re listening. This is our job, and I’m listening.”

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