The council table was divided on Tuesday, Aug. 16 over what has become a hotly debated issue in Whistler: employee housing.
The discussion was sparked by Canadian Wilderness Adventures' (CWA) efforts to seek permanent zoning for its tenure, a 3,900-hectare area in the Callaghan that straddles the boundary between the municipality and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD). The recreation provider currently operates on a provincial Crown land tenure and Temporary Use Permits from the SLRD, which are set to expire in November.
The application to the SLRD, which was sent to Whistler's council for comment before consideration, is seeking to rezone CWA's existing tenure area to a new site-specific zone that would allow for the construction of a welcome centre, celestial observatory, rafting, kayaking and zipline amenities, tent camping sites and several employee housing units.
It was ultimately the proposed housing — eight cabins that could house up to 16 on-site staff — that served as the major sticking point for council, which voted to support staff's response by a vote of 4-3. Councillors Jen Ford, Steve Anderson and Sue Maxwell voted against staff's response.
In its report, staff voiced support for the application with several conditions attached, but warned against setting a precedent for development in non-settlement areas.
"This issue should be addressed through the RGS (Regional Growth Strategy) update process and updated employee-housing policies and strategies for the region," the report read. The RGS is a strategic growth document expected for update in the coming months that outlines a 20-year vision for livability in the SLRD and surrounding region. An employee-housing forum will be part of the process.
Factoring in the region's current housing crunch, Ford said the RMOW should support employers looking for solutions.
"We are in a housing crisis and this is a good employer providing housing for its employees during a critical time. I don't see this as creating a precedent where we're going to now see large neighbourhoods being built there," she said.
In an interview prior to the council meeting CWA president Allan Crawford said, "Whistler is really busting at the seams and (council) is against our staff housing."
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden explained the rationale behind the vote.
"This is not 'no' to housing," she said. "We need to consider the provision of additional housing, and currently the Regional Growth Strategy says that should occur in settled regions, not out ad hoc around the corridor. If we're going to change it, we have to do it in a considered way."
Ultimately, council went against staff's recommendation to exclude kayaking, ziplining and rafting from the zone's permitted uses, amending the response, although it did agree with staff's opposition of a proposed 4X4 skills track.
"I feel strongly against motorized activity (in the zone)," said Coun. Andree Janyk.
Council also supported a condition to add "forest management activity" to the zone's permitted uses as CWA's tenure overlaps with the Cheakamus Community Forest, where logging is allowed.
"I think it's good that I'm trying to prevent them from logging old-growth in the Callaghan, but they're trying to say that I don't have any say against it," noted Crawford. "I think I'm doing good for Whistler in that aspect."
In another tight vote in June, council opposed the proposed expansion of CWA's operations by a vote of 3-2. CWA had applied to increase its tenure area by 215 hectares. At the time, staff cited concerns with the plans around inconsistency with local government policy; lack of integrated management, planning and coordination in the Callaghan Valley; environmental impacts; and recreational impacts.
Following Tuesday's meeting, however, Crawford was encouraged council is starting to see the value in his company's plans.
"The meeting actually went better than I thought,' he said. "We seem to have more support (from council) than I initially thought."
The SLRD will now be taking the municipality's feedback into consideration before deciding on the rezoning application in the coming weeks.