Yellowknife City Council agreed to sign a memo Monday night that names Tin Can Hill as the planned site for a future Aurora College polytechnic university campus.
The motion passed with six votes in favor of signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the college and the territorial government. Com. Stacie Smith was the only one to oppose the decision, and Councilor Niels Konge was not present.
Tin Can Hill is a popular green space that borders Yellowknife Bay, an arm of Great Slave Lake. Named after rusting tin cans left behind by prospectors decades ago, the area is a haven for dog walkers, bikers and off-leash picnickers.
The suggestion to make it a campus, which the council formally heard for the first time last week sparked a divide in the city – putting recreational users at odds with those in favor of development.
A done deal?
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty told city hall the memo is an agreement for staff to work on the various legislative stages of the project — like giving the land to the territorial government and rezoning it.
She said there would be opportunities for people to have a say in the development, particularly during the rezoning phase, and the location is not yet a “done deal”.
But of the seven residents who spoke at the specially convened council meeting, the most concerned, the memorandum of understanding suggests otherwise. Some of the concerns were about transparency, poor consultation, a rushed decision, a loss of green space and a missed opportunity to meet climate change commitments.
what people said
Con Road resident Amanda Sharma, who regularly walks the Tin Can Hill trails that connect to her garden, said building new structures for the university would consume large amounts of energy and the best solution would be that the college is renovating vacant buildings that already exist in the rather downtown area of the city.
“The greenest building is the one that’s already built,” she said, quoting former American Institute of Architects president Carl Elefante.
But Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, an academic who told City Hall she was bringing $23 million in research dollars to the territory over a 10-year period, said Yellowknife couldn’t afford to. set up a campus in a downtown office tower where it could not expand. .
Irlbacher-Fox, who along with Chamber of Commerce President Rob Warburton spoke out in favor of the campus, said building the institution on a land site next to a body of water , is an act of reconciliation that will benefit Aboriginal students coming from NWT communities.
Irlbacher-Fox also said it was “misleading” to portray Tin Can Hill as an accessible green space, as there are no accessible trails or public transport links.
Allan Gofenko, a 21-year Yellowknife resident and CBC North employee, told City Hall his petition against the university’s development garnered more than 680 signatures in seven days.
The Government of the Northwest Territories chose the location behind closed doors, he said, and has requested that other sites on campus be shown to the public.
“This MOU plants the seed that Tin Can is anything but a done deal,” he said. “We all know that the further we move towards subjugating Tin Can to this development, the more difficult and costly it will be on all fronts to change direction.”
What the politicians said
Com. Julian Morse said he spoke with Education Minister RJ Simpson on Friday and learned that Yellowknife does not have as many suitable sites for a college campus as it appears.
“There is no better site, in this community, that is available for development right now,” Morse said.
He also echoed the advice. Morgan’s suggestion that a university campus might be the best way to preserve Tin Can Hill’s green space, as in the future it might instead become the site of residential development.
“I don’t agree with this perspective that the two can’t co-exist,” he said.
Com. Steve Payne, meanwhile, said a university on Tin Can Hill could be “the envy” of the three territories and he urged people to trust the decision-making process.
“Sometimes we don’t understand the whole process that’s happening behind closed doors,” he said. “We must believe that there is [were] many professionals behind the choice of this location, and [professionals] who know a lot more about choosing a university space than we do.”
Com. Smith said a polytechnic would be great for Yellowknife, but would “stand firm” with residents who oppose Tin Can Hill as a location.
“We keep missing those great opportunities to take our downtown and be creative,” she said.
Aurora College’s current campus in Yellowknife shares a building at the corner of Franklin Avenue and 54th Street with Northern United Place. It also has campuses in Inuvik and Fort Smith.
Mayor Alty, who supported the motion, said the students deserve a culturally relevant space, in their home territory, with access to trails, that is better than what they have had in decades.
“I know one of the challenges for residents today is that they want to be ten steps ahead. They want to see what the building will look like…they want to talk about the trails and see what they look like.”
Alty said she also wants to know what the building and trails will look like, and she’s looking forward to fleshing out those details and telling people further down the road.
If the project reaches the zoning bylaw stage, the city will have to hold a statutory public hearing in which residents can participate. This is not expected to happen before early 2023.