Opinion » Editorial

editorial 603

In most towns, the intent of a neighbourhood block watch is to make the neighbourhood safer. In Whistler, a neighbourhood block watch means making sure your neighbour hasn’t filed a rezoning application. Whistlerites, like much of the rest of humanity, don’t handle change well. It used to be pensions and bed & breakfast rezoning applications that were the scourge of neighbourhoods, particularly when it came to light there were a few who seemed to be seeking rezoning with no intention of operating a B&B or pension but were doing so solely to boost their property values. Last year the main neighbourhood battles were over employee housing rezoning applications. Employee housing projects will be an issue this year, too, but the fiercest fighting may be on a house-to-house level, or more accurately, villa-to-villa and chalet-to-chalet. Council last week received the first four of 42 rezoning applications to legalize chalet or pension accommodations. More applications could be on their way, as there are well over 100 units which have been operating as chalet or villa accommodation and the municipality has vowed to shut them down if they aren’t properly zoned by the end of May. This is an issue that has been allowed to fester for years. The present council started to go in one direction to address it (remember TCUPs, the temporary commercial use permits?), then switched courses and now requires each chalet or villa to go through the full rezoning process in order to be "legalized." Problem is, or may be, this council has taken so long to address the issue it is now into an election year. And based on council’s decision last week to reject one of the first four rezoning applications (the vote was 3-2) because a handful of neighbours wrote letters opposing the move, one has to wonder how far most of the applications will get. This council deserves credit for staying the course on employee housing projects, despite some vocal opposition at public hearings. But there is a pretty clear consensus on employee housing, at least among council and staff. Chalets and villas are another thing altogether. If the first rezoning proposal was rejected at first reading based on a few letters, what chance do the others have at a public hearing? Moreover, there are enough sides in the chalet and villa issue that no matter what decision councillors come down with, they are going to upset more people than they please. In favour of chalets and villas are the WRA, Whistler-Blackcomb, international tour operators and local property management companies, including some small operators who were able to start businesses and remain in Whistler by catering to a market that at one time the resort was indifferent to. Opposed to chalets and villas are those who don’t see why more commercial operations should be allowed in residential neighbourhoods, particularly when there are empty hotel rooms. Those are usually tax-paying and voting residential property owners. Then there is the fact that the number of applications for chalet and villa zoning exceed the number of commercial operations allowed in some neighbourhoods. What it seems to add up to is a no-win situation in an election year.

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