What Yellowknife council candidates think about proposed plans for the 50/50 lot
5 candidates support city’s plans to essentially give away the 50/50 lot to housing developer for $1
Five of the 16 candidates for Yellowknife city council say they support the city's plans to essentially give away the 50/50 lot for a housing development, but some also had reservations.
"I voted for it. I am cautious. I want to ensure that what was proposed is what is done," said incumbent Steve Payne.
"The city should have never bought that lot but here we are, we own it. And over the last 10 years it's sat vacant. I'm happy that things are moving forward."
Last week, Yellowknife's council voted unanimously in favour of allowing the city to sell the 50/50 lot for less than the land's appraised value, as long as development of the site includes some affordable housing.
Right now, the site is being used as a parking lot.
Council's decision came after Halifax-based Holloway Lodging Corporation proposed buying the 50/50 lot for $1. In exchange, Holloway said, it would develop the land for residential purposes within a "reasonable" timeframe.
The company offered to construct a building with at least 180 apartments — studio to two-bedroom in size — and "street facing" commercial space.
The sale to Holloway isn't yet final, though, and other companies can still bid on the 50/50 property.
CBC North emailed every candidate asking whether they agree with the city's plans to sell the 50/50 lot Holloway for $1.
Rob Warburton, Stacie Arden Smith, Steve Payne, Ryan Fequet and Garett Cochrane said they agree, while Dwayne Simmons, Devon Hodder, Ben Hendriksen and John Fredericks said they disagree.
Stewart Pallard, Tom McLennan, Mike Martin and Rob Foote gave comments, but didn't come down definitively on either side.
Rommel Silverio, Cat McGurk and Beaton MacKenzie didn't respond.
This story offers a sampling of the candidates' written responses.
The 50/50 lot has been vacant since 2014, when the city bought it for $1.45 million, and council was presented with plans for a park or plaza in the downtown core.
But, as Rebecca Alty told CBC last week, a previous city council quashed those plans when it became clear that realizing them would cost upwards of $2 million.
Adrian Bell, a councillor at the time, later clarified that "the option that a lot of us supported was to purchase [the lot], clean up the caveats, and then sell it for development, very much like what's happening now."
He said it wasn't the $2-million price tag that worried council so much as the "prospects of building a plaza in the heart of a rundown downtown, and the likelihood of social issues overwhelming any positive civic impacts."
A request for proposals for the lot, put out in February of 2019, garnered zero bids.
City doesn't have set definition of 'affordable housing'
Council's decision to allow the lot to be sold for as little as a dollar comes with the condition that any development include a certain amount of "affordable" housing.
But the city doesn't have a written definition of affordability — something McLennan and Hodder take issue with.
"It would be important to me to see what conditions the city puts on the development in terms of the number of guaranteed affordable housing units and the definition of 'affordable,'" said McLennan.
City administration has said they will look at definitions used by other Canadian municipalities, Housing NWT and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Alty said someone who makes $60,000 or less would be eligible for affordable rental rates.
Council is 'cleaning up their predecessor's mess'
Warburton, who founded a real estate investment company, agrees with allowing the city to negotiate a deal that may lead to $1 sale price.
He said the mayor and council of the day made a "very poor decision" when they purchased the 50/50 lot without a clear plan for how to use it.
The result, he said, was that the city lost out on innumerable property tax dollars over the years, while residents watched their own property taxes rise.
"Let's be real, this isn't what a former mayor [Mark Heyck] recently called 'corporate welfare at its finest,'" said Warburton.
"It's this current mayor and council cleaning up their predecessor's mess."
Five candidates wrote that the city shouldn't have bought the lot in the first place: Foote, Fredericks, Hodder, Payne and Simmons.
Incumbent Smith, who agrees with the current proposal for the 50/50 lot, said the city bought the lot in 2014 with revenue from land sales — not taxes, which is a common misconception.
"The project might not hit every point that the community wants; the intention is have a starting point," she said. "It will draw more small businesses and people to the downtown core. It will attract new investors for future projects."
Under Yellowknife's Development Incentive Program bylaw, a residential developer downtown could be eligible for five or more years of property tax abatements.
Hodder, who opposes the current proposal for the lot, said the proposal to give a southern corporation "a $1.45-million discount, plus other tax abatements, and not ask for anything in return, seems backwards."
He said he would have liked to see a profit sharing arrangement in which "once units are sold, the city gets their cut."
Skepticism over potential buyer
Hendriksen and Fredericks both disagree with the current plans for the 50/50 lot. They also expressed skepticism over selling to Holloway, specifically.
In Yellowknife, the company owns the Quality Inn and Suites, the Super 8 hotel and the upper part of Centre Square Mall.
"[Holloway] has shown no interest over the years in improving the quality or usability of the part of Centre Square Mall they already own," said Hendriksen.
"Why does council think that this company will be good shepherds of a new development?"
The city hasn't yet set a deadline for proposals for the 50/50 lot.
- An earlier version of this story stated that the 50/50 lot was purchased with visions for building a park or plaza downtown. It has been updated to reflect that plans for building a park or plaza came after the lot was bought.Oct 04, 2022 3:38 PM CT