Opinion » Editorial


Opening remarks Extraordinary circumstances need defining There were three major points to come out of Monday’s three hour public hearing on the proposal to build a freestyle training centre on Blackcomb and allow 22 single family lots in the Adventures West area. The first point is that very few — if any — people are opposed to the freestyle facility. The second is that a lot of people are opposed to the 22 lots, largely because some of them are so close to the wetlands at the shore of Alta Lake and the mouth of the River of Golden Dreams. And the third point is that even some people in favour of the project are confused by the process that has allowed the proposal to get this far. All the facts, studies and reasoning in the world isn’t going to convince some people that the lots in Adventures West should be allowed. Their opposition is based on the fact that this is one more development project that wasn’t accounted for in the Official Community Plan (and is therefore growth beyond what has been planned) and the fundamental belief that it will damage some of the remaining wetland in the valley. (Conversely, the developer, Peter Foreman, after several meetings with area residents, seems to have the support of most people who live in Adventures West and Alta Lake Resort.) Leaving aside the project’s affect on the wetlands (a preliminary environmental review has been done but an environmental impact assessment has not), at the heart of the conflict is the "extraordinary circumstances" clause in the OCP that has allowed the project to get to this stage. Because planned but yet to be built projects, such as much of Village North and the redevelopment of Whistler Creek, will bring the municipality to its stated ceiling on development of 52,500 bed units, council has declared a moratorium on new development proposals. It will only consider new projects in unique circumstances which council believes can be of large benefit to the community. No one argues that the freestyle facility, which would make Whistler the home of the national freestyle team for at least five years and would provide a much-needed training centre for the gymnastics club, would not be a great benefit to Whistler. The difficulty that even some people in favour of the project have is with the developer trading the $750,000 freestyle facility for development rights elsewhere. Such tradeoffs have been done before. Zoning and subdivision rights for the Sunridge project were granted on condition the developer build the Suncrest employee housing project first. The land for the employee housing lots on Lorimer Ridge was turned over to the municipality after the owner was given building rights on adjacent land he owned. But with the development ceiling rapidly approaching the prospect of "buying" additional development rights looms large. As one developer said Monday, only half in jest, "what would we get if we built you a library?" As development rights are exhausted, owners of unzoned land could conceivably compile a list of facilities the community needs and step forward with proposals to build each of them, in exchange for zoning and development rights on their own land. Council could accept or reject such "extraordinary circumstances" as they are presented, but it would exercise greater control if it made the process clearer. Provide a tighter definition of "extraordinary circumstances" and make it well known. Perhaps a more detailed evaluation and inventory of unzoned, privately held land should be done, so that the land owners and the community know what could be built on such property if extraordinary circumstances are found. Finally, if there is a price for bed units beyond 52,500, determine that value now so that everyone knows what it is. – Bob Barnett

Add a comment