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Council amends home studio bylaws

Permits should be free, artist says



Whistler council made some amendments to its home-based studio bylaws before passing them — extending the temporary-use permit (TUP) length from two years to three and reducing the renewal fee from $300 to $250 among them — but at least one local artist remains unimpressed.

"I'm pretty sure it's unanimous in the arts community that it should be free and there should be no fee," said local potter Vincent Massey.

"If you look at any artist out there, especially in Whistler, none of them can afford another fee just for the privilege of living in Whistler. I don't want to sound like I should be getting a handout, I'm just asking to do what I do — that I have done for the last three decades — without a fee."

With the changes, artists will now be charged a total of $1,000 over six years — not counting a $165 business license — should they opt for the one-time, $250 renewal after the initial three-year permit expires.

"(That) amounts to about $165 a year, so to my mind it's not onerous," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said at the Dec. 15 council meeting where the bylaws were passed.

"I hope it's not onerous. I hope it's not a barrier."

The fees are in place to recover staff time involved with processing the applications, including community consultation, site visits and administration costs.

The idea to allow sales from home-based studios came from recommendations in Whistler's Community Cultural Plan, which was developed in consultation with local stakeholders.

But Massey said artists were left out of the last round of discussions.

"In the last year we were absolutely left out of that, and it was basically, 'this is the way it's going to be, love it or leave it,'" he said.

The TUP route was chosen over more wholesale zoning changes to allow for a flexible approval system that both supports artists while ensuring there are still checks and balances on the system.

As part of the process, the Resort Municipality of Whistler will establish a committee made up of various local stakeholders — including the Whistler Arts Council — to review each application.

But the added oversight has more to do with the experiment of adding retail opportunities to residential neighbourhoods than it does censorship, Wilhelm-Morden said.

"This isn't a case of censorship, it's not a case of 'going down the rabbit hole' of what constitutes art," she said.

Rather, the committee will ensure that what is being approved is in fact art, and not a different kind of retailer trying to take advantage of perceived loopholes, the mayor said.

Councillor Sue Maxwell offered a similar thought.

"We want to make sure... we are meeting the intent of the bylaw and there's not some loophole where some business that does end up impacting the neighbourhood quite a bit... would come in and thus cause problems for everybody," she said.

"So I think that this is a great way to test out the system and see how it works."

Councillor Jack Crompton agreed with the cautious approach.

"I think caution and iteration is important, because we need this to work and we want this to work, and, importantly, there are many more recommendations of the cultural plan that we want to implement after this one," he said.

Another amendment to the bylaw changed wording that restricted eligible studios to those that had been established as of Nov. 17, 2015. That restriction will now only apply for one year.

"This is a really positive move in opening the possibility up to new artists that want to apply after the first-year pilot project, if they haven't already got an established home-based studio and they want to apply for this," Councillor Jen Ford said of the amendment.