Iqaluit committee rejects rezoning for planned apartment building

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.

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News