Former councillor questions trail deferralTwin Pine Hill development remains on back burner
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 14, 2012
O'Reilly was perhaps the fiercest critic of development plans for Twin Pine Hill while on city council from 1997 to 2006. He said he opposes a decision made by mayor and council last week to put off building trails until private developers get a building permit for properties adjacent to the trails.
A joint partnership, Deton'Cho Corporation-New North Projects, is planning a hotel with office space on two small lots of land they own on the hill facing Franklin Avenue. Deton'Cho Corporation is the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. A company named Yellowknife River Resorts, a consortium of First Nation investors, had originally planned to build a $25-million hotel and conference centre atop Twin Pine Hill, which would have also including walking trails built by the city, but that project never came to fruition.
In the meantime, Twin Pine remains largely unvisited by residents, save homeless people looking for a secluded place to make camp.
"If you put some trails in and have them designed, it is one more thing for tourists to do when they get here, as well as for residents," said O'Reilly, echoing arguments made by city councillors last week in support of building trails now.
"Anyone who has been here for a while and who has used Frame Lake Trail and the Range Lake system and been up on Tin Can Hill knows there is a demand. (Twin Pine Hill) can and should be designed and included in the trail system for Yellowknife."
The 2013 budget passed by council this week includes an amendment initiated by Coun. Adrian Bell, stating that a city contribution of $250,000 for trail development on the hill will be held by a third party until there are assurances that the joint partnership's hotel plans will proceed. City administration said a building permit may not be approved for another one to three years.
An agreement between the city and the joint partnership would require the developers to contribute an additional $250,000 for trail development. The two parties had already spent an additional $50,000 toward trail development on Twin Pine last year.
During his tenure on council, O'Reilly railed against various aspects of the Twin Pine Hill development plan, including how the city sought to sell the property and rezone it. Like now, the wishes of residents to have trail development on the hill continue to be pushed aside, he said.
"I always said when I was on council that they should start spending the money now," he said. "The proper time to design and develop trails is before development starts."
Bell said it is more responsible to wait and see what happens with the development because building trails is a "we-will-build-it-and-they-will-come" venture by the city that might encourage more residents and tourists to use the hill but won't necessarily be a good investment by the city.
"For Twin Pine Hill, if there is an opportunity to piggy-back on development, then we should certainly do that, both for cost-effectiveness in terms of building the trails and mobilizing people," said Bell.
He said during last week's budget debates that he is concerned about creating a "white elephant" by investing more trail money now.
Coun. Niels Konge said putting in trails now might only encourage more anti-social behaviour taking place on Twin Pine Hill.
"The people we see up there are typically quite intoxicated," said Konge. "Up on the cliffs, they tend to roll down the cliffs and I have seen that a number of times. I don't want to be encouraging that type of behaviour."
Coun. Bob Brooks, who sat on council with O'Reilly and who debated the hardest against Bell's motion, said he is already hearing disappointment from residents.
"The residents in (the Twin Pine Hill) area in particular who had been lobbying for many, many, many years to try and get a trail system in there were disappointed because they don't care if there is a development there or not," he said.
As of now, council is uncertain when the issue may come back to them but agree it will depend on joint partnership project timelines.
Company representative Greg Herndier said land surveys are being finalized, access agreements are being negotiated and potential clients are being sought.
"We probably won't move ahead with development until late next year, if we do at all," he said.