Council votes down proposed Tundra East development
Matthews casts deciding vote
Mayor John Matthews, who faces re-election in three weeks, cast the deciding vote this week against developing the Tundra East area of Iqaluit.
With his vote, which surprised both Tundra East critics and promoters, Matthews disregarded a unanimous recommendation from the city’s own planning committee to move ahead with the development.
This committee, headed by councillor Keith Irving, one of Matthews’ chief opponents in the mayoralty race, supported construction of up to 90 single-family units in an area that had been already approved for development by the city’s recently approved development plan.
While he didn’t support the “not-in-my-backyard” aspects of the Tundra East detractors, and rejected their complaint that there hadn’t been enough consultation beforehand, Matthews said Iqaluit needs to get away from developing residential areas, such as the proposed Tundra East subdivision, that depend on trucked-in water and sewage services.
Matthews’ deciding vote put down a resolution to proceed with developing Tundra East. Councillors Chris Wilson, Glenn Williams and Doug Lem also voted against the resolution. It was supported by Stu Kennedy, Lynda Gunn and Keith Irving. Elisapee Sheutiapik, also a candidate for mayor, was absent for a second consecutive city council meeting.
Matthews’ decision capped off a two-hour debate between those for and against the Tundra East development. Many spoke about the need to preserve “the last piece of tundra” and “green space” near Iqaluit. Others revived discussion about exactly what kind of development Iqaluit should have.
All this talk came a little late for some councillors, who wondered where the Tundra East critics were when the city’s development plan was under consideration last year and a decision was made to include Tundra East in the plan.
“When do people have enough interest? There is an onus on people to listen and follow what happens,” Williams said.
“People have no concept about a development plan,” said John Laird, a spokesperson for those who turned up at the council meeting in opposition to Tundra East. “A gap has occurred in the consultation process.”
Whatever may have been decided during previous discussions, councillors weren’t immune to the opponents’ message about rare tundra plants and their call for more environmentally sound and thoughtful development practices.
Some speakers against Tundra East promoted the advantages of developing the area known as Area A, which lies behind Nunavut Arctic College, because it’s closer to the city core, even if this area would be more expensive and time-consuming to develop.
Ed Picco, MLA for Iqaluit East, told council he had been contacted by his constituents who were not in favour of Tundra East. He said he’d walked the area behind the power plant — also slated for future development in the city’s development plan — and found it “a fantastic area for development.”
Lena Evic-Twerdin, speaking in Inuktitut, underscored the importance of Tundra East as a berry-picking area. Moosha Akavak, also addressing council in Inuktitut, spoke about Iqaluit’s beauty and the need to leave an undeveloped place for children to hike.
“That is a unique place, a unique part of the tundra,” Akavak said.
Gunn, who admitted she was caught off-guard by these testimonies to the uniqueness of Tundra East, said “this band-aid solution may be the only way to move forward.”
However, Lem questioned the environmental impact of developing an area that needs trucked services, particularly since Iqaluit had signed on as the 100th city in support of the Kyoto accord, which is designed to reduce emissions from gas-powered vehicles.
Irving called the face-off between the need for more single-family dwellings and the desire to preserve land in Iqaluit a “classic example” of development struggles.
While acknowledging the concerns expressed at the meeting were valid, Irving said the Tundra East development could still be done in an “environmentally sensitive way” with studies on vegetation, snow and drainage pointing the way to damage-reduction.
But after Matthews’ vote against Irving’s resolution to move forward, council voted in favour of looking at other options, such as developing in Area A, infilling in existing neighbourhoods, and amending the city’s own development plan to remove Tundra East from any future development.
If Iqaluit’s population increases to more than 10,000 in 2022, as expected, the city will need more than 83 new housing units a year.