White Row residents uncomfortable with developer’s makeover proposal

Tenant writes to city complaining of Nunastar plans


The sign advertising rental apartments in Tunnganaq House – the four-story block Nunastar Properties Inc. wants to build in Iqaluit’s White Row housing development – hasn’t gone up yet.

But that doesn’t make White Row resident Barry Cornthwaite unhappy. He likes White Row housing just as it is.

And Cornthwaite doesn’t think Nunastar should have been able to acquire an equity lease for the White Row housing units, which allows the company to pay a fixed amount and eventually “own” the property.

In a letter to councillors on July 22, he said the city should have kept the land and proposed it’s own development.

But Keith Irving, chair of city council’s planning committee, said Iqaluit doesn’t have the right to deny a developer from converting a land lease, a type of perpetual rent, into an equity lease or from developing property.

Irving said the city – and the public – can intervene when it comes time to grant a development permit. But, he added, a development permit hasn’t yet been granted in the case of Nunastar’s proposed development of White Row.

“Our power lies in developing a zoning program,” Irving said. “We have to balance the needs of the community with the rights of the developer to develop his land.”

Cornthwaite will have a chance to discuss his concerns at upcoming city council meetings and when Nunastar’s proposed development gets to the public consultation stage.

But he said he isn’t looking forward to seeing any changes to his neighbourhood. He’s been living in his four-bedroom house in White Row for nearly six years.

Occasionally his unit is drafty in winter and stuffy in summer, but given its 32 years – which makes it old by Iqaluit standards – Cornthwaite considers his home to be in good condition and comfortable.

The new apartment blocks that would eventually occupy the entire White Row housing area would be closed, multi-family units.

“I like having a door to the outside,” Cornthwaite said.

As White Row’s 96 three- and four-bedroom units are eventually replaced with 400 new apartments of all sizes, Cornthwaite also fears the neighbourbood will become a “mish-mash” of residents.

“Whenever you get a big congestion of people, you have problems,” he said. “The lifestyle mix doesn’t really appeal to me.”

The upcoming construction period and related safety issues trouble him as well.

He told council to “try and imagine what will be going through people’s minds when a building grows up within steps of where their children slid down in the winter and rode the bikes in the summer.”

Lease lingo
Nunastar has an equity lease for the land occupied by the eight-story apartment building on Astro Hill as well as White Row housing.

Its land leases for the White Row blocks numbered from 500 to 600 were converted to equity leases in the 1990s. And last year, Nunastar converted the remaining blocks numbered 100 to 400.

Steve Cook, general manager for Nunastar, said all the White Row buildings have belonged to Nunastar and its predecessor, Frobisher Developments Ltd., since their construction.

Cornthwaite, a former FDL employee who now works for the Government of Nunavut, believes the City of Iqaluit should have kept the land leases for the 100 to 400 blocks “to make money on” instead of converting them to equity leases.

“Did council ever consider keeping these lots for their own?” he asked council in his letter.

But Irving said by converting Nunastar’s historic land leases to equity leases, Iqaluit is just trying to play by its own rules.

Irving admitted he wasn’t aware of all the details concerning the Nunastar leases, but he said that since the 1990s, Iqaluit has encouraged all those with land leases to convert them to equity leases as soon as possible.

Iqaluit’s original land leases gave homeowners a tract of land in exchange for a small annual rent.

In the 1990s, voters in Iqaluit said no to the idea of fee-simple land sales, which would have allowed the city to sell land rather than lease it. That meant Iqaluit had no choice but to continue with equity leases as a way of financing the cost of land development.

An equity lease is seen as an investment in the development of a piece of property and also gives the homeowner the chance to “own” the property when or if it’s put up for sale.

People who hold old-style land leases must now convert them to newer equity leases.

Since the city doesn’t distinguish between private homeowners and commercial landowners, it’s impossible to prevent the conversion of a land lease to an equity lease just because the lease-holder happens to be a developer.

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