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Good neighbour agreements 'have no teeth,' says Coun. Morse

Keith Sulzer, in a presentation on Aug. 19, told good neighbour agreements are useful communication tools, but not useful for enforcing policy Photo courtesy of the City of Yellowknife

Yellowknife city councillors Julian Morse and Niels Konge expressed frustrations in City Hall Monday that "good neighbour agreements" might not be as useful as first thought.

The Aug. 19 special committee meeting featured a presentation from administration on the details of what these agreements are and how they have been used in Yellowknife and other municipalities.

Keith Sulzer, manager of legal services and corporate policy, told councillors, "a good neighbour agreement is usually an agreement often between neighbours which focuses on building relationships in communities. They aim to promote positive behavior, decrease the likelihood of disputes and often provide avenues to address concerns as they arise."

He ultimately stated that good neighbour agreements should be encouraged as communication tools, but are not effective ways to enforce bylaws or policy.

Keith Sulzer, in a presentation on Aug. 19, told good neighbour agreements are useful communication tools, but not useful for enforcing policy Photo courtesy of the City of Yellowknife

Konge said he would be more likely to approve a conditionally permitted use application if a good neighbour agreement was present.

"Just because it exists does that mean they're living by it?" asked Sulzer.

"There is no relative enforcement. You might be signing off because they've got one, but there's nothing to hold them to it. If there's something in that agreement that makes you want to sign off on it, it should be somewhere else where the city can enforce."

Sulzer and administration said any legally binding conditions surrounding a conditionally permitted use applications should be placed in those applications as opposed to relying on good neighbor agreements.

Downtown Day Shelter

The explanation left Konge unsatisfied and he asked what could be done in situations where conditionally permitted use applications are causing issues in the community, such as the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre.

"I feel as though as a councilllor my hands are being tied, you've got a bag over my head and you're just kicking me in the ribs," said Konge.

Coun. Julian Morse said the city has been put in a difficult situation with the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre since they are relying on a good neighbour agreement to try and help correct issues in the area.
NNSL file photo

"Really we've got no tools in our toolbox to deal with these issues."

Morse implored councillors and administration to not beat around the bush in discussion what should be done.

"I think we should be a little but specific about what we are talking about," said Morse. "A lot of the problems we are talking about are around the sobering centre.

"It's safe to say right now the GNWT hasn't been particularly responsive in terms of getting an good neighbour agreement together and that is problematic."

Morse noted when neighbours are willing, agreements can be signed in a matter of days.

He asked administration multiple times what the city can do when they have granted a conditionally permitted use permit but there are problems being caused the day shelter downtown.

"It is my understanding that you cannot add conditions after the fact," said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, senior administration officer

"So we can't do anything?" asked Morse.

"We're being told that good neighbour agreements don't have teeth, and we're being told  if you want teeth you can't do that either. So it kind of puts us in a bit of a funny position."

"We've got one conditionally permitted use giving us a problem and it seems that good neighbour agreement is all that we've got."

A good neighbour agreement was supposed to be signed between the NWT Disabilities Council who runs the downtown Day Shelter/Sobering Centre and its neighbours, but an agreement has yet to be ratified.

Good neighbor agreements have become a subject of conversation since the owner of the Fin Hansen building made a presentation to council detailing abuse and public disruptions.