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Council plays hardball with VANOC

Two days to Christmas, Whistler Council stalls approval of Olympic TCUP bylaw



Whistler’s new council refused to forge ahead with a significant Olympic bylaw last week, one day after it came to light VANOC was considering cutting the medal ceremonies from Celebration Plaza as a cost-saving measure.

All five council members at a special Dec. 23 meeting said they are uncomfortable with the proposed temporary commercial use permit (TCUP) bylaw as it stands and want more information before giving the bylaw third reading.

They also want to send a strong message to VANOC that they are displeased with the Celebration Plaza discussions. (See related story.)

“At this time, to go ahead and consider this without hearing back from VANOC on what their longer term commitments are to us would be very remiss,” said Councillor Tom Thomson.

“Until we see the intentions of our partner, we should not go forward,” said Councillor Ted Milner.

And Councillor Chris Quinlan added: “With the concerns we have right now… I am not comfortable putting the one opportunity we have to show our resolve at our feet.”

If passed, the TCUP bylaw would let VANOC set up temporary structures, including stores and food-outlets, at five spots in Whistler: Celebration Plaza, Franz’s Trail/alpine venue, the athletes’ village, the sliding centre venue and the conference centre, which will become the main media hub.

TCUPs could also be used to provide accommodation for Olympic workers and volunteers until the summer of 2010.

The bylaw is key to carrying out the Games in Whistler, and Mayor Ken Melamed, along with senior staff members, was not comfortable with council’s decision to stall third reading.

“I think we will regret taking a position to slow this down,” said Melamed, adding the issues with VANOC could be resolved over the next few months.

“We still hold the ace card. This isn’t the last opportunity. If you want to send a message, there is enough time to do that.”

Added Jim Godfrey, Whistler’s executive director for the 2010 Games: “The municipality has had, and is gaining, significant benefits as a result of the relationship (with VANOC) at this point in time.”

“You might be making a real mistake. That is not something you often hear from your senior staff.”

The mayor called the meeting because VANOC must still secure another 411 bedrooms for media in Whistler by February. Also, VANOC needs another 900 bedrooms in the corridor for Olympic workers and volunteers.

With the TCUP bylaw delayed it is unclear what VANOC will do. The Olympic organizing committee might turn to other temporary housing plans, like campsites and cruise ships in Squamish, for some beds. (See related story).

VANOC’s spokespeople are out of the office until Jan. 5.

Despite these consequences, the five councillors remained steadfast in their position.

One of the councillors’ greatest concerns is that between the temporary kiosks at all the Olympic venues and the possibility of no medal ceremonies at Celebration Plaza, few Olympic spectators would make their way into the village during February 2010.

It will be easy for someone to board a bus in Vancouver, watch a bobsled race at the Whistler Sliding Centre, buy food and beverages at the venue, along with Sumi, Quatchi and Miga souvenir dolls, and get back on the bus without really seeing Whistler, explained Councillor Ralph Forsyth.

Councillors also felt uneasy about having an urgent meeting called two days before Christmas.

Councillor Grant Lamont changed his travel plans in order to attend the meeting. Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, the only councillor not present, was vacationing in Hawaii.

“The e-mail (to call the meeting) the other day was the first I heard that we were under some significant time pressure, and I wonder why we didn’t start this process earlier if we are now under this time pressure,” said Forsyth.

Godfrey said the only reason for the meeting’s unusual date was to get the bylaw approved as soon as possible.

Over the past few months, the TCUPs bylaw has stirred up anxiety within the community, including business owners who are worried about how temporary VANOC stores could thin their business during the unusual 2010 winter season. About 40 people attended an open house earlier this month, and nine people spoke out during the public hearing for the bylaw.

But last week’s meeting was sparsely attended by the public, with only four people coming to municipal hall on Dec. 23, including Fiona Famulak, president of the Chamber of Commerce, and members of the press.

Senior staff are also drafting a sister bylaw for the Jan. 13 council meeting that will dictate which TCUP applications council will approve and which ones senior staff can OK.

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