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AVENS seniors housing project receives building use approval, moves closer to development


The proposed Aven Pavilion seniors housing project received unanimous support for special care facility building use during Yellowknife's city council meeting Monday night.

A proposed seniors independent and supportive living housing unit on the AVENS complex received approval
for building use on the lot, Monday night.
image sourced from the City of Yellowknife

The planned 102 units, which seeks to provide both independent and supportive housing on the AVENS complex by the end of 2022, now moves closer toward development after weeks of critical feedback from neighbours.

Last month, city staff had asked council to approve the building use for the project as a conditionally permitted special care facility after a development permit was submitted in December. Due to the R3 zoning and limitations for use of the lot, council was required to provide direct approval to build seniors housing in the space, according to the zoning bylaw.

Although neighbours for the most part indicated their broad support for additional seniors housing units, many opposed the proposal and called for redesign in recent weeks due to poor vehicular access. Many have said that the proposed access road - a narrow, gravel strip called the Matonabee Laneway- is too narrow and in too poor condition to handle additional traffic the development would require.

Council heard three final delegations on Monday night including with a returning presentation by neighour Colin Baile, who felt that the development permit application was not complete and not ready for council's approval yet. He specifically criticized flaws in the traffic and shadow studies, alleged a lack of clarity on the amount of supportive housing units versus independent units, noted that there hasn't been an age limit specified as to who qualifies as an eligible, renting senior, and pointed out that questions still remain on parking, where the entrance will be located and whether another access road will need to be built. He said council needs to exercise more authority and not leave incomplete aspects of the proposed project for the development officer and the project team to complete.

"To ensure council's process is right, the best option is to either postpone any decision making until all the required information is before you or deny the permit application until they tell the developer to resubmit but all the information is available," he said.

But representatives from the Yellowknife Seniors Society, who presented a petition and who spoke in favour of the development during the meeting, said that they were satisfied with the development proposal from AVENS. Linda Balsillie and Yvonne Quick said that any delay to the project would be "unjustified" given the high demand for affordable independent and supportive living units for seniors in Yellowknife.

"This project deals directly with helping resolve a large portion of the need right here and our capital city," Balsillie said. "As a senior I want to remind our city administration and our elected city council that unwarranted delays or appeals to this development need to be dealt with fairly and swiftly. Unsubstantiated delays and extensions to permit for this project will jeopardize a positive outcome and many of us seniors who are looking for affordable housing options today."

Thomas Milan, the project manager also updated council on areas of the project where improvements have been made since council and neighbours discussed frustration with project at the Jan. 18 and 25 governance and priorities committee meetings. He noted that efforts are being made to possibly widen the laneway, build an access road to the site from Gitzel Street and reduce proposed parking stalls as ways to reduce the impact of increased density to the neighbourhood.

Morgan amendment

Coun. Shauna Morgan was successful in getting her fellow councillors to approve an amendment that would highlight aspects of the zoning bylaw involving transportation standards being met and council's desire that they're strictly followed during later stages of the development process.

"I just think it would be best to have it be absolutely clear and in writing what council's intentions are here to protect the safety of everyone who will be living in that building," Morgan said, noting that this includes people who live and commute in the neighbourhood.

"I just think it would be beneficial to be crystal clear about our intentions on this for everyone's benefit in the long term."

Only Coun. Niels Konge saw the amendment as redundant and unneccessary.

"I think if I was a planner or working for the City of Yellowknife and council gave me this here direction I'd almost feel insulted," Konge said. "It's almost like, 'Well, they don't really think that I'm doing my job. You know, they think I'm only going to pay attention to part of the bylaw and not all of the bylaw or that I'm only going to do what I feel like doing. So I have to think, frankly that this is insulting to our staff."

Mayor Rebecca Alty, who also supported the housing project use as a reasonable and comparable use to what is already permitted according to zoning, said that the city's development officer will be expected to ensure that all aspects of the zoning bylaw are met.

Once that is done, the proposed development will be posted publicly for 14 days at which time the public can appeal the project through the city's development appeal process.