Iqaluit council struggles to build a bigger city

Participants in public meeting to craft a vision for growth fear town has grown too urban



Longtime Iqaluit residents spewed out harsh words at a public meeting last week about the jumbled way the city has grown while building developers blasted council for trying to impede their plans for more apartment complexes and office buildings.

About 70 people, including homeowners, residents, business people and developers, came out to help city council craft a vision for Iqaluit’s growth.

They pitched ideas about everything from where to build new housing units and how to design the downtown core, to how to keep the traditional, small-town feeling of Iqaluit alive.

City council will use residents’ input to put together its “general plan,” which sets out how land in Iqaluit will be used, identifies areas that should be protected from development, and points out parts of the city that might see more buildings crop up over the next 20 years.

“We want you to tell us where you want to see new development to go and where you do not want future development to go,” city councillor Keith Irving said at the June 19 meeting.

According to city council, there is an abundance of development in line for the second-fastest growing city in Canada. “We’re looking at a doubling of the population. Where are those people going to live?” Irving asked meeting participants.

Residents were quick to criticize the way city councils of the past have let development proceed, saying Iqaluit has grown in a haphazard way.

It’s meant that office buildings don’t have enough parking spaces, there are few lots left in the city for new houses, and there’s barely enough room in front of many buildings to put in sidewalks.

“It would be nice if we weren’t all sitting on top of each other,” Iqaluit resident Lena Ellsworth said, referring to how close housing lots are to one other. “It’s almost too urban.”

“There is no control in this town over growth and clutter,” added Steve Birrell, who, having lived in Iqaluit since 1990, has watched the city’s growth unfold.

But some local developers think city council is actually too stringent with its development rules.

Kenn Harper, general manager of the Urbco property development firm, said he’s seen council quash plans for growth too many times. Harper said developers apply to build apartment complexes on the few empty lots in Iqaluit and they are flatly turned down.

“There has to be a solution to the housing crisis. It’s a bottleneck situation with the city hampering people from coming here,” Harper told council. “People can’t get a place to stay now.”

Protect the land

Councillors asked residents how they want the city to look in 20 years. And residents had lots of suggestions.

They batted around ideas such as keeping office buildings in the downtown core, creating suburbs to maintain the small-town feeling, and requiring developers to design buildings to reflect the northern lifestyle.

Many people also had strong opinions on what they don’t want Iqaluit to become.

For instance, some longtime residents said they’re worried the city will expand onto pristine land. The West 40 area was a particular concern.

In a map handed out at the meeting, the area was identified as a possible growth spot. But people said the West 40, which leads into Sylvia Grinnell Park, is a problem area, not a growth area.

“It’s kind of like an expanding garbage dump,” said Steve Birrell.

Residents also want to see traditional berry-picking spots, such as an area near Apex, protected from future development.

Over the summer, consultants will incorporate residents’ vision for Iqaluit into a general plan, which will be presented to the public by October.

But the whole process has at least one Iqaluit resident angry. Sytukie Joamie, who grew up in Iqaluit, said he’s frustrated with city planning that never seems to go anywhere. “I don’t know how many planning meetings I’ve been at since the 1970s. I can’t keep track of what plan we’re on.”

What angers Joamie more is the fact many of the people pitching ideas for Iqaluit’s growth are southerners, who he says come here for a few years, make their money and leave.

“You’re talking about planning for the future. But most of you in this room won’t be here in Iqaluit in 20 years.”

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