Whistler's 2018-2022 Five-Year Financial Plan—with a proposed tax increase of 2.25 per cent and 1.1- and 4.5-per-cent increases to sewer parcel and solid waste fees, respectively—is officially headed for adoption after receiving first three readings at the April 10 council meeting.
The readings passed in a vote of 5-1, with Councillor Sue Maxwell opposed.
Maxwell raised several concerns with the budget the last time it was presented to council on March 6, including the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) budgeting process, reserve policy, and lack of action on green initiatives.
"I'm not going to support this budget ... because I feel that it does not achieve the goals that we had set out at the council retreat, particularly with regards to valuing the environment, and making significant strides on some of the indicators that have been in the red since I think I've been on council and before," Maxwell said.
"I don't do this lightly, and do like to work as a team member, however, I feel that it is important to not just accept the status quo—that I have tried hard to amend the process over time and it hasn't worked—so I do feel that I just need to say that I can't in good conscience support this budget."
One line item in particular remains a sticking point for many—the $2,715,000 earmarked in 2018 for an artificial turf field at Bayly Park.
Nine people wrote letters to council opposing the project in recent weeks, all of them highlighting concerns about the impact to the environment.
Five others were on hand for the April 10 meeting to ask questions of council directly.
Like the letters, the questions were mostly focused on potential environmental impacts.
Cheakamus resident Lyle Featherstone raised concerns about microplastics getting into the water table and effects to the nearby Cheakamus community garden,
"Madame mayor, councillors, I've read a lot about this. I'm quite astounded, very distressed that this is the direction our community is going in, when you, mayor and councillors, have been doing an excellent job in a lot of ways on the environmental front, solar panels at Meadow Park, waste reduction..." Featherstone said, before Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden cut him off and called for the question.
"When did you, mayor and councillors, lose your environmental compass?" Featherstone finished.
Wilhelm-Morden said she didn't think the question was fair.
"We've had enormous public consultation on this issue, we've had public meetings, we've had budget open houses when this was a topic, this has gone to (the Recreation and Leisure Advisory Committee) numerous times, and I think your accusation, rather than your question, is unfair," the mayor said.
Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey pointed out Vancouver Coastal Health has no problem approving such fields, and the project will meet all provincial and federal environmental requirements.
"I'm not in a position to debate the persons who drafted the Environment Act and what would be an acceptable amount of materials that may or may not come from a particular field like this, but in our position we have to rely on guidelines set by the responsible agencies," Furey said.
At the very least, Featherstone asked council to direct staff to look into building a concrete perimeter or containment ditch around the field to filter out waterborne plastic particles.
"Our staff has engaged the appropriate experts to advise us, and them, on the design parameters of the field," Wilhelm-Morden said.
"And if there is some additional design requirements that are necessary I am sure that they will come forward."
HOUSING REPORT DEFERRED
A report on a new approach to employee housing proposals from private developers was deferred at the April 10 meeting.
The report recommended that council consider such projects through a "comparative evaluation process" that would give each proposal equal and consistent consideration—but was pulled from the agenda and deferred to a later date before the meeting started.
"Just in talking individually with some of the councillors there was just some expressions of concern, so we thought it would be better just to pull it, work through some of the issues and then bring it back," Wilhelm-Morden said after the meeting.
"We're all keen to get going on housing, and any further delay is a bit of a pain, but we want to make sure we've got it right."
The report likely won't be presented at the next council meeting, either, the mayor said.
"I can't speak to what might change because I think we need to workshop it and go from there," she said.
Two formal rezoning applications have been submitted to municipal hall so far—one at 2077 Garibaldi Way and another at 7104 Nancy Greene Drive—with several more developers and land-owners expressing interest.
Everything from infill triplexes and dormitories to 300-unit, multi-family developments is being considered.
But taken together, the interest at muni hall far outweighs the RMOW's target of 500 beds from private developers by 2023.
Through the new proposed process, projects would be evaluated against Official Community Plan policies.
Interested parties would be notified of the new approach, and would have until May 15 to submit a preliminary rezoning application.
A report would then be brought to council in September for the consideration of next steps.
"The process as outlined is reasonable given both the interest expressed by the private sector and community impact concerns," said Dave Brownlie, one of the proponents of the 74-unit project in Nordic, which has garnered more than its fair share of opposition since being announced in December.
"The downside is that we will not likely see any new employee units available until three years from now. With costs climbing and interest rates forecast to increase, we may see further challenges to execute on the development of those new units."
The application at 7104 Nancy Greene Drive in White Gold has also drawn some ire from nearby neighbours, though not nearly to the same degree as the Nordic proposal.
Rod Nadeau of Innovation Building Group/Vidorra Developments, the company behind the 65-unit, five-storey proposal, said the new approach works well with the project.
"Now we have a set timeline to work with," Nadeau said in an email.
"We are in the process of revising our site planning now that we have done a detailed survey of the site and existing trees. Our new site plan will address the concerns expressed by the neighbours in their letters to council about our project."
The report will be presented to council at a later date.