Iqaluit committee rejects rezoning for planned apartment building

Developer says he will turn to developing commercial space next

Iqaluit’s planning committee votes at a meeting held Tuesday. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A contractor’s request to rezone land to allow for a four-storey, 31-unit apartment building near city hall has been unanimously rejected by Iqaluit’s development committee, despite city staff recommending the project go ahead.

The proposal by Milan Mrdjenovich sought rezoning to high-density residential, from the current central business zone designation.

It also asked that the requirements for lot size be reduced, and that they allow for a smaller front yard and higher residential density, according to city documents.

Later, Mrdjenovich said in an interview that he’s indifferent to the committee’s decision. He said he has a new design ready for another building on the same site — one with more commercial space and fewer residential units.

“I thought that with the housing crisis happening in Iqaluit, maybe this would be a better option,” he said of his original proposal.

“I thought that was something that would be supported by council, but obviously this city council doesn’t want more units.”

At the meeting, councillors Simon Nattaq and Romeyn Stevenson and deputy Mayor Kyle Sheppard spoke about the disadvantages that would come with rezoning the land, located at Iglulik and Iqaluktuuttiak drives.

Currently, a hair salon and vacant building are on that site.

The main issue discussed was that Mrdjenovich’s building was slated to include one- and two-bedroom units, while those councillors want units with more bedrooms.

“It costs the least to build one- and two-bedroom units,” Sheppard said during the meeting. “It’s a way to maximize profit.”

He said that in the past five years the city has almost exclusively approved one- and two-bedroom unit buildings.

“If we’re going to be making significant changes to our policies … I think we should be seeing the types of property we want to see in our community,” Sheppard said.

He said the city has to weigh the importance of commercial and residential real estate, and that changing the zoning in a case like this would remove designated land from a business area.

Stevenson said the city needs three- and four-bedroom units in mixed-use buildings so people have options to live in different areas of the city, even if they have a family.

“We’re just building a lot of buildings where families of five or six people can’t comfortably live,” Stevenson said.

He also said he doesn’t want to change the city’s zoning bylaw to allow living spaces to become smaller.

“It concerns me to see us trying to fit larger buildings onto smaller spaces or squeeze buildings into spaces,” Stevenson said.

The only positive, he said, is that Mrdjenovich’s building would be an addition to a commercial area that council has decided should be more compact and walkable.

Stevenson said approving the proposal from Mrdjenovich would set a precedent that could lead to other developers seeking similar allowances.

Mrdjenovich said he’s hesitant to build more commercial space because he owns about 3,250 square metres of commercial property next to the Beer and Wine Store that’s sitting empty.

But going that route will be cheaper and easier, because he saves on cabinets, flooring and costs for appliances.

Mrdjenovich said he doesn’t own any buildings with one- to two-bedroom residential units.

Having three- and four-bedroom units on that lot isn’t feasible, he said, because of its small size; having a unit that’s big enough to fit a family would mean there could only be four three-bedroom units per floor.

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(28) Comments:

  1. Posted by Bad Move on

    I don’t think that council’s reluctance with respect to unit size and living space is unreasonable. And I’m confident the developer would do fine with the three bedroom unit layour he describes as unfeasible. We need larger units. Iqaluit is a city, not a fly-in work camp.

    I think the insistence that it be mixed use is unreasonable though. I like mixed use planning and I think it’s the way to go in most cases like this. But we aren’t most cases and I think the fact that developer already owns a significant amount of empty commercial space is an important detail that deserves more consideration. You need people to attract businesses and you need houses to have people.

    Bad move I think.

    • Posted by Vacant Commercial Space on

      The reason the commercial space is vacant is two fold.

      1. Nobody but the GN and Feds can afford what they want in rent. Many small businesses looking for space but these landlords want long term high paying Government Rent, not small business rent.

      2. The GN and Feds are facing a mass exodus of staff, so what do they need more office space for?

      • Posted by Bad Move on

        I agree entirely.

        Most of the people on the way out, me included, probably have an office already. What we need is better and more affordable homes.

        Seems like we’ll get empty offices or empty lots because our Council will allow perfect to be the enemy of good.

  2. Posted by Trying to Cash In on

    I doubt the reason for wanting more residential units was as noble as he would have us believe. He is a land lord!
    If the hotel across from the boarding home is any example, the work is slow and it doesn’t look like quality, lasting material being used.
    Land lords in Iqaluit these days are in it for the cash more than helping society.

    • Posted by Business on

      It’s a business. Businesses are not founded and in operation to provide assistance in helping society. It’s about making profit. This is true for all businesses. What’s wrong with this? Nothing!

      • Posted by SJW on

        Actually, capitalism has caused a lot of the social problems that we face today. Let some socialism and caring catch up.
        How many transients have 2nd housing properties that they use to fund their mortgages? A little break in income means no vacay in the tropics? I actually heard someone complain about this, no Costa Rica this year, boo hoo.

        • Posted by Dulcinea on

          I’m not sure how your comment has anything to do with capitalism vs. socialism.
          If you’re implying that some transients in Iqaluit live in staff housing but also own residential property in Iqaluit that they rent out for big bucks, that sounds like a poorly managed staff housing program that both capitalists and socialists can condemn (albeit for slightly different reasons).

        • Posted by John K on

          I don’t vacay in the tropics. I prefer Europe.

      • Posted by Consistency on

        There is a difference between a business being profitably and cutting corners and inflating the costs to make even more money then is needed.
        Housing is desperately needed. but I would guess that 80% of the units that are needed need at least 3 bedrooms according to housing rules. Adults are not supposed to share rooms with kids and boys and girls are supposed to have separate rooms. there are not that many families in Nunavut that only have 1 kid, or even just 2 that are the same sex.

  3. Posted by Facts on

    The people that want 1 or 2 bedroom units are the hard working types, the professionals, the couples, the small families. The people that want the 3 or 4 bedroom units are usually the very large families who may not exactly be able to fork out 3000$ a month for rent. Sadly this mrdonovich runs a business and wants to maximize profit and that just won’t happen with larger units.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Dear Facts. Just as an FYI larger families are also made up of hard working professionals who require and can afford 3-4 Br housing. Building 1-2 Br units leaves Iqaluit a town of transient part timers and isn’t in the best interests of the City or its residents. So while it may not make sense for Mrdjenovich to build a unit that accommodates 3-4 Br units it most certainly makes sense for Council and the community. I applaud the stand that Council has taken on this issue.

  4. Posted by Tdobb on

    The reason the boarding home build being slow was due to Covid. Does anyone remember that!!
    Council will keep stating that landlords are in it for money. Wake up, yes landlords everywhere on this planet is in it for money. No shocker there.
    Same old song and dance, debate with developers while the City keeps growing but no where to live. Demand keeps outweighing supply therefore housing prices will continue to shock you with crazy high prices every time one is listed. Please think outside the box council.

  5. Posted by Maybe on

    Maybe the GN could lease that vacant building near the beer and wine store and use it as a rehab facility. That way, when the alcoholics decide to get sober, they will know where to go.

    • Posted by John K on

      They’ll have to shovel all the rocks out first judging by all the first floor windows.

    • Posted by Devil’s Avocado on

      Yes, but it might also work the other way too.

    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      Absolutely, let’s put a rehab facility right next door to the beer and wine store. The gn needs the income

  6. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Good call by council. Mr Mrdjenovich currently has two projects languishing in various states of disarray and incompleteness. I am not sure that we need another one. Couple that with Council’s policy change requiring developers to construct buildings with larger (3-4 BR) rental units and it might be some time before Mr. Mrdjenovich is able (or interested) in developing another building.

  7. Posted by Patrick Star on

    “Mrdjenovich said he doesn’t own any buildings with one- to two-bedroom residential units.”

    Doesn’t he own the building City Hall is in? I have been in a two-bedroom apartment there.

  8. Posted by Withness2isanity on

    insane,Madcap,Derange action from this town, iqaluit, when housing is desperatly need it, but the city instead vote for more office and warehouse to be build.

    what is the local homeless or the new Young home looking local inuit is supose to do then ? live in an ofiice ? set home in a garage? dweling at woke?

    what is this iqaluit ? Really ? we got to do better

    theres so much new commers Arriving & taking all the place, more are need it for both inuit and them, so build up more appartment, dont stop appartment building PLEASE Must The Citizen Remind you that its Need it and thats what they want ?not new office but more appartments please,be resonable and smart,give the people (INUITS) what they need, not what you want for more tax or whatever Reason

    • Posted by Not reality on

      I guess reality has not been realized. The time when Inuit receive all the handouts is/will come to a stop. This is not what real life is about. Developers build buildings to create a revenue and not to support people with requests of free or highly subsidized housing. If the GN wants to rent it and provide this building to Nunavummiut for free (just about), go for it. Been realistic, you need housing for the people who actually work and keep this government together and as functional as possible. Like it or not, this is the way the ball rolls, without “transient” workers, not even the ball would roll in Nunavut

  9. Posted by No forethought on

    So let me get this straight. Developer already has the zoning in place to building mixed use with some one and two bedroom units. Council rejects a zoning change to have more one or two bedroom unit because they want bigger units. The result is that the developed uses the existing zoning to build less one and two bedroom units.
    So the city doesn’t gets no bigger units and fewer smaller units. How is this a win in any way? Complete lack of forethought thinking they can somehow bully the developer who already has an option that works for him but is worse for the city.

    • Posted by Not Well Explained on

      The article does not do a great job of communicating the decision.

      All the comments about 1-2 bedrooms and 3-4 bedrooms are taken a bit out of context. The counselor stated that he knew this would be issues to be brought up when the development permit was applied for but was asking if maybe they need to change the process. The process he is referring to is the need to have zoning in place before going for a development permit.

      The main concern I heard when listening to the meeting was the current zoning for the lot is commercial, but allows for residential (i.e. mixed use) This developer was asking to change the zoning to only residential, and therefor changing some of the requirements such as for parking and such that go along with the change in zoning.

      Both councilor Sheppard and Stevenson mentioned the main concern being the president of changing commercial zoning to residential. This president could turn into a 24 unit residential building being built beside the quarry, NAPA, or other commercial space.

      Good city planning says you need different types of land for different things and you need them in certain areas. This area they are and have set president of allowing for mixed development such as City Hall and some of the other buildings in the core. We need this for small business, office, space, non-profits, all types of places need commercial zoned space to operate. Removing that zoning would mean one less space available for business development. Iqaluit is bursting at the seams both on residential and commercial space. So I believe this was a good decision by council.

      The conversation on 1-2 bedroom vs 3-4 bedroom should have waited for the development permit stage and just muddies the waters on the entire discussion. The chairs of these meetings need to start keeping the councilors on the relevance of whats infront of them.

      • Posted by True, but… on

        Good planning also says that overly restrictive zoning bylaws can be just as detrimental as having none.

        As far as I can tell this property would be on the corner of two non-arterial roads that are likely to become something akin to collector roads as density increases. I can’t think of or find any planning principles that support hindering this suggested planning change. In many mixed use neighbourhoods you see more pure residential development in the interior with more commercial development being limited to arterial thoroughfares. This helps to prevent/alleviate through traffic in residential areas.

        As long as we elect councilors with spines the only precedent this sets is reasonable flexibility in creating zoning by laws.

        The issue of parking obviously needs to be addressed but I think that deserves it’s own conversation and I don’t believe that a lack of parking should preclude residential development in a time of need.

      • Posted by Miss Taken on

        Who is the chair of this committee?

  10. Posted by Colonial on

    Not getting things passed so easy now his buddy isn’t mayor. Better landlord than Northview though.

    • Posted by Lolz on

      Clearly you are confused and obviously ignorant on how council/s works LOLZ

  11. Posted by Resident on

    Why is city denying when there is such a high need. We should not be denying investment, we should be welcoming with open arms.

    I think we are not in the position to be selective when the need is so high!

    • Posted by Consistency on

      How many times in are things done RIGHT NOW because the need was high… but then down the road that same thing caused other issues. Planning is important, if thoughts about moving in and out of the city/towns, commercial, residential, industrial areas are not happing then there will be other issues down the road.
      when Iqaluit is even bigger it will also need more commercial zones in areas, if they just fill them all with residential now because the need is great then where will the commercial areas go later.
      What each community in Nunavut needs to think about right now with Nunavut 3000 is creating New subdivisions that incorporate residential and commercial spaces, along with transportation corridors.

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