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Athletes village still awaiting provincial OK

Public hearing will not happen until business plan approved



The fate of Whistler’s athletes village is coming down to the wire.

There is still no indication from the province whether it approves of the municipality’s business plan for the village, despite repeated pleas.

Mayor Ken Melamed called it "nail biting time" this week as the days pass by without word and the drop-dead date for getting into the ground draws nearer.

"We haven’t heard an official response," he said Tuesday. "The unofficially response is "be patient" and that’s what we’re trying to do."

There were meetings between municipal and provincial staff early this week. Previous to that a Whistler delegation including the mayor and administrator Bill Barratt met with Premier Gordon Campbell in Victoria at the end of March. A follow up letter was sent to the province in mid-April.

The details of the proposed business plan are not public, save that Whistler has asked for help from the province to build the village.

With $45 million from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games to build the village, Whistler is looking for more funding to make the village permanent and a lasting legacy for the community. It will become employee housing post-Games.

If there is no help forthcoming, the future of the village is uncertain.

Mayor Melamed is still hoping that approval of the plan is coming within days, which will allow the municipality to hold a public hearing on the rezoning to gauge community support by the third week of May. If that happens Whistler would still have time to be in the ground at the Lower Cheakamus site by the beginning of June.

Council has been setting the stage for the business plan approval in order to streamline the process as much as possible.

On Monday night council made some minor changes to the rezoning bylaws, which are sitting at second reading.

The changes ensure that the commercial area, which will be roughly 16,000 square feet, will remain for local neighbourhood uses, including businesses such as a grocery store, restaurant, and local retail. An extra 3,000 square feet will be for professional offices such as doctors, dentists and lawyers. By way of comparison, Nesters Market is roughly 13,000 square feet.

Council also authorized a public hearing on the bylaws but the date has not yet been set because of the outstanding details on the business plan.

The bylaws will not move ahead to a public hearing until the business plan is finalized and made public.

Meanwhile, the budget introduced by the federal government on Tuesday contained no mention of the additional $55 million VANOC is seeking from Ottawa.

Last year VANOC announced it needed an additional $110 million for venue construction and asked the federal and provincial governments to split that cost.

In a statement released Wednesday by VANOC, CEO John Furlong said VANOC has fostered a new relationship with the federal government since January’s election and dialogue is on-going with both levels of government regarding the capital funding requested.

"We have a submission before the federal and provincial governments for assistance with capital funding and we understand they are continuing to do their due diligence," Furlong said.

Venue construction scheduled for this year is going ahead as planned.