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‘This land is going to be developed’

Player building road into Alpha Creek lands, seeks rezoning for Whistler University



The man behind a proposed Whistler university is now moving full steam ahead to develop the Alpha Creek lands.

But unless the property is rezoned it may be estate lots that are developed on the environmentally sensitive site.

Over the past few weeks, Doug Player has cut roads into the treed land bordering Highway 99, opposite Spring Creek. The land, which extends from Function Junction almost to Alta Lake Road, is currently zoned for four single-family homes. Player plans to go before council in the next few months to again ask for rezoning to build a tourism university on the site.

"The land is going to be developed," said Player, who has been pushing the Whistler University concept for several years. "It is now a case of what you put on it. For me, as a resident, I think why don't we put something on it that is going to benefit the community as a whole? Education has been talked about in this town for years."

Among his steps to entice council, Player has finalized a business plan and started establishing partnerships with other schools around the world, including a culinary institute in Switzerland and a university in China.

He sees a university eventually holding 1,200 to 1,500 students and focusing on tourism, environmental and leadership education.

This summer, he also hired Philip Dearden from the University of Victoria to see how a university could be developed on parts of the property that are above the wetlands.

Dearden, who is chair of UVic's geography department, wrote a 16-page report that endorses the university and gives 11 recommendations on how to mitigate the ecological issues.

Among other things, the report recommends not building any infrastructure on the property's wetlands and including compulsory environmental classes in the university's curriculum.

"Whistler University will through its on-going research and monitoring enhance the environmental sustainability of the Alpha Lands and the whole region," Dearden concluded in his report.

Player also said he has spoken to members of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations to find a way to integrate First Nations studies into the university's programming.

"I have met with both First Nations because we would like to put in some kind of First Nations studies using what we call prior learning assessment, so the kids have a real chance of success when they go to university," he said.

Despite these actions, Mayor Ken Melamed is still strongly against Player's proposed Whistler U.

This week, the mayor clearly stated that he does not plan to bow to Player's threats to build single-family homes unless council approves rezoning for the university plan.

"What is really unfortunate, in my view, is that Mr. Player thinks he can threaten us," Melamed said on Tuesday. "It is almost a vindictive development. He has admitted he doesn't want to develop the lots, but he has said he is going to go ahead and clear trees and build the lots. He is almost daring us to approve new zoning."

The mayor said since he first sat at the council table in 1996, Player has brought six different development applications for the 77-acre Alpha Creek Land, also known as the Zen Lands, before council. They have all been turned down.

The municipality has also offered Player land swaps, including less environmentally sensitive property, and he has consistently declined those offers.

"For me, it is not a question of whether or not there is a university in Whistler," Melamed said. "It is really just a question of location and the appropriate land use."

The mayor said Whistler already has infrastructure that could be used for an educational centre if the right business model is put together.

"Let's stay away from the Zen site," said Melamed. "We have dealt with that. It is possible to bring that type of use into Whistler in a way that makes sense and takes advantage of existing infrastructure."