City Coun. Niels Konge, a prominent developer, was voted unanimously to sit as the primary council representative on the city’s development appeal board on Feb. 22, but at least one person in the community is questioning the ethics behind the decision.
An anonymous letter was left with NNSL Media last week highlighting comments from Konge as discussions took place in January about updating the zoning bylaw. During an exchange with municipal planning staff, Konge expressed concern over input from people who are opposed to development in their neighbourhood, or “not in my backyard” (NIMBY).
“I certainly don’t want to create a zoning bylaw where NIMBYism makes it harder to do anything …. I mean, the bylaw needs to be good for all of Yellowknife, not just a few people who are concerned about what’s going on in their backyards,” Konge said.
The person who wrote the letter stated that they consequently have “no expectation that my interests will be heard if I have cause to appeal a development decision.”
The letter writer also left a copy of the City of Yellowknife’s code of ethics.
Konge said on Thursday that people have their right to their opinion but that the criticisms aren’t warranted given that council gave a unanimous blessing for him to sit on the board, that he has experience working with the bylaw as a developer for two decades and that the public continues to have the right to provide input to the city regarding the zoning bylaw.
He was also a council representative on the board from December 2012 to November 2018, which stretched over his first and second terms on council.
“The development appeals board is there to ensure that the zoning bylaw is being followed by developers,“ Konge said. “It’s just like anything where everybody wears different hats. I believe I bring value to not only council, but also to any committee I’m on.”
Konge had put his name forward for the board seat earlier this year as did Coun. Shauna Morgan. Both councillors made their cases in-camera where “there was a healthy discussion and debate and lots of pros and cons on all sides,” according to one councillor NNSL spoke with. Konge was the winning councillor.
Morgan declined comment for this article.
“I definitely have an understanding of the zoning bylaw and use them more than most, and that was my pitch to my fellow councillors,” said Konge. “Obviously enough councillors supported me for that position that they gave me that position.”
He added that with the community plan being passed last year, which involved several months of public input, and the zoning bylaw in the process of being updated for the first time in a decade, the city is focused on more infill development around the central core, which has elicited opposition from some residents.
“With that, we’re going to see more appeals and with those appeals I’m going to look at what grounds they are being appealed on and whether or not developers are following the bylaw,” he said.
Konge noted that some residents feel he shouldn’t even be a council member because of his occupation. He added that he has a good record of declaring conflict of interest, when necessary.
“If in the case of any development that comes to council for conditionally permitted use, for example, if that goes to appeal, I can’t sit on that appeal after having already been asked what my opinion as a councillor is,” he said.
He added that if there is a building where a developer wants to construct a 25-metre building and the zoning bylaw states the maximum requirement is 15-metres, he is obliged to reject the project brought forward by the developer.
Coun. Robin Williams was among elected members to support Konge.
“I think everyone is entitled to their opinion but I think for myself, I looked at him (Konge) not only because of his knowledge of the industry but also that he is one of our longest sitting councillors and has had the benefit of seeing multiple appeals and how they go through,” Williams said. There are “pretty dramatic changes” happening as new the zoning bylaw is being developed and he said he felt it was “important to have that experience to draw upon.”
Williams agreed with Konge that there has been NIMBYism when it comes to development plans and added that Konge can “articulate various sides of the equation” relating to development appeals.
According to the city, it’s council’s responsibility to appoint who sits on the board, which also consists of a chairperson and at least two members of the public. There are currently seven members on the board.
When a hearing takes place, a minimum of three people have to be present.
“Councillor appointments to boards and committees are reviewed annually by council,” stated Alison Harrower, media spokesperson for the city.
Harrower added that residents are encouraged to contact the city clerk’s office by email or phone with any concerns regarding the development appeal board or the appeal process.
NNSL Media attempted to speak to Mayor Rebcca Alty for this article but she was unavailable Thursday.