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decigon update

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By Loreth Beswetherick The future of the Emerald Forest lands is still being thrashed out behind closed doors and it is likely nothing will be made public until Intrawest gets the green light to develop the day skier parking lot below the Chateau Whistler. Details of a nature trust being set up to look after the interests of the Emerald Forest in perpetuity must also be finalized. It was expected a deal would be struck by March this year between the three parties at the table — the municipality, Intrawest and Decigon, which owns the 140-acres of land. Intrawest is poised to buy the Emerald Forest property, which runs along the valley bottom between Alta Lake Road to the west and the B.C. Railway to the east. The private land is criss-crossed by bike trails and much of it is deemed environmentally sensitive. Intrawest would in turn donate the Emerald Forest property to the municipality for use as a natural park. For its good will, Intrawest would be allowed to transfer the bed units associated with the site to the parking lot known as Lot E, below the Chateau. Decigon principal Larry Houghton said although nothing has been signed and sealed yet and negotiations are still progressing smoothly, if slowly. Houghton said the deal is complicated. One of they key issues that must come together before it is finalized is the establishment of a nature trust. He said solicitors are ironing out the paperwork, which he expects will be ready any day now. Houghton said the municipality downzoned and decreased the value of his RR1-zoned property by increasing the minimum subdivision parcel size to 100 acres, from 20. He now wants to make sure the land is preserved as a natural park in perpetuity and that it doesn’t just get added to Whistler’s land base with a potential to be developed in the future. "If I am passing the property on, I have an obligation to the people I have worked with in the community to do my best to see that the site is preserved. I really am quite interested in seeing the trust established." Houghton said another hurdle is the rezoning of Lot E, which he expects will come before council for preliminary approval at the next council meeting. Intrawest had intended to use 600 bed units, from the pool of 2,300 bed units it gained through the Whistler Mountain acquisition, for a hotel on a portion of Lot E. Now there are plans to develop the entire parking lot using additional development rights earned through the Decigon transaction. Houghton said new parking facilities will likely have to be created elsewhere, possibly in "another structure." Decigon also put the municipality on legal notice when council voted to "downzone" all RR1 land by increasing the subdivision parcel size. The same was done when the municipality moved to delete hostels as a permitted RR1 use. When the Emerald Forest transaction goes through, however, the threat of legal action will fall away as part of the deal. Stephane Perron, president of Whistler’s environmental group AWARE, said his organization has not been party to any discussions on the formation of a trust for the Emerald Forest lands. "It is a scenario we had been hoping for," said Perron. He said AWARE has in the past debated setting up a Whistler nature trust. "But at the time members decided it was probably better to deal with a big organization that is already established. There is no point in reinventing the wheel if it will be just as effective to use an organization out of Vancouver or even a B.C-wide group." He said there are a number of such trusts in Canada. He said Whistler already has an example of land protected by a nature trust — the greenspace dedicated as part of the Barnfield development was deeded to the Land Conservancy of B.C. for protection in perpetuity. In Barnfield, for example, a covenant covers the greenspace in such a way that a paved trail is not permitted and, should the municipality so much as wish to remove a hazardous tree, it must notify the conservancy.

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