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Council gives go ahead to Nita Lake project

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The controversial Nita Lake Lodge development is moving forward with both the municipality and an opponent of the project confident the law is on their side.

Council voted 4-1 to move the project ahead on Monday night, with only Councillor Ken Melamed opposing the four-storey boutique lodge and multi-million dollar train station on the south end of Nita Lake.

Now neighbour Keith Lambert, who forced the municipality to rewrite the Nita Lake Lodge bylaws earlier this summer with the threat of legal action, is asking his supporters for guidance.

"As for our next step, really I feel I have an obligation to a large community out there," he said after council’s decision on Monday night.

"They may not be the majority but they certainly aren’t a small minority.

"I suspect they will expect me to carry this on but I’m going to consult with these people, the members of the community, before I do that and wait to see what their contribution is.

"I think I owe it to them to hear their feedback."

Lambert plans to consult with about 10 community members. He said they represent the wishes of the roughly 170 people who wrote to council expressing concerns with the Nita Lake Lodge project.

Only after this consultation will he make a decision about whether he will pursue legal action.

The municipality however is prepared to stand by its decision in granting zoning approval to the development.

Along with the 80-room lodge and train station the development also includes 14 large single family homes off Alta Lake Road. There is also an extensive amenities package in the deal which includes two sites of employee housing and the preservation of 25 acres of sensitive wetland.

Lambert argues that the extensive amenities "sweeten" the deal, prompting council to pass this project that would never otherwise have been approved.

Acting Mayor Nick Davies said Monday amenity zoning is specifically allowed in the legislation that created the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

He said when the municipality engages in amenity zoning, they must strike a fair balance between the development and the amenities offered. In his view the Nita Lake Lodge development achieves that balance.

"If we don’t fight that battle (of amenity zoning) on this project, we’re going to fight it on another," said Davies, standing in for Mayor Hugh O’Reilly who, along with Councillor Gordon McKeever, are not a part of the Nita Lake Lodge discussions because of a conflict of interest.

Davies said he was prepared to draw the line in the sand with the Nita Lake Lodge project.

He added that if there is legal action, he’s satisfied that action would challenge the will of the community and he’s prepared to meet that challenge head on.

Davies said there is another form of the so-called "Aspenization" of a resort where wealthy people can buy a large home and impose their will on the community with their money without considering what’s best for the community.

Other councillors reminded the public that though many people want to see parkland at the south edge of Nita Lake the three acre site has in fact always been in private hands.

"The property has never been designated as park," said Councillor Caroline Lamont.

As for the other community members who are worried about the size and scale of the project and about the views and the wildlife corridors among other things, Davies said council has heard their concerns.

"It’s not that we didn’t listen to them, it’s that we respectfully disagree with them."

Councillor Melamed disagreed with his fellow councillors, saying the community is indeed split over the issue. This was apparent when the community mobilized "when they were given a shred of hope" after Lambert threatened legal action at the end of May.

That threat removed a $1 million donation to the health care system from the deal but the bulk of the project essentially remained the same. It also forced a second public hearing where a number of community members expressed both support and opposition to the Nita Lake project.

"We have the luxury in Whistler to wait for the best proposals," said Melamed, adding that it’s the extensive employee housing tipping the balance in favour of this project.

"All the compromises being made (in this project) is for employee housing," he said.

After the meeting developer John Haibeck said he was relieved with council’s decision to pass third reading and pleased with the community support throughout the long process of getting this development up and running.

The Nita Lake Lodge project has been in the works for more than two years and has experienced many setbacks and changes along the way.

Now the developers said they are planning to work with municipal staff on fourth reading of the bylaws to get them adopted, work on the green building standards for the development and firm up the design of the employee housing site on Alta Lake Road. They are hoping to break ground on that two-acre site in September.

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