"Some policies we espouse are so nebulous we can prop up almost anything with them." Councillor Nick Davies
Davies made that statement at Tuesdays council meeting after fellow Councillor Ken Melamed referred to the Natural Step framework the municipality has adopted and how, in Melameds opinion, approving large houses is inconsistent with the Natural Step.
Earlier in the meeting Fire Chief Bruce Hall referred to one of the directions in the Whistler 2002 Charting a Course for the Future document, the one that talks about providing a safer and more effective means of delivering emergency services, in justifying a request for an additional $40,000 for the purchase of a new four-wheel drive fire engine.
But the Whistler 2002 policy that seems to have become particularly nebulous is the one that states the municipality will become an entrepreneurial partner. Section 12 of the current Comprehensive Development Plan also recognizes that community facilities needed in Whistler can be better achieved with contributions from the private sector.
These policies were raised Tuesday in relation to the Bunbury rezoning application. The proposal itself is, as Davies said, extremely generous. It includes a $1 million donation to the Whistler Housing Authority, a $300,000 contribution to a local non-profit organization, dedication of nearly five acres (half the property, located above Bear Creek) for conservation, construction of hiking trails, creation of two employee-restricted cottages and upgrades of roads and services. This would be in exchange for rezoning the property to address three non-conforming houses and create a fourth estate lot.
The concern, as Melamed said, is the perception that the municipality is selling zoning.
A year and a half ago the Houghton brothers provided $300,000 for the Spring Creek Daycare and Millennium Place, in return for "bonus densities" that allowed them to increase the size of the houses they are building. Since then the developers of the BC Rail lands have included five "amenity lots" in their development, which are to be used to help finance resident housing and/or environmental initiatives. The Nita Lake Lodge Corporation, whose development proposal has yet to formally come before council, has already offered to donate $1 million to the Whistler Health Care Centre.
The day care, Millennium Place, the health care centre and the housing authority can all use the money. Their continuing operation and success are vital to the well being of the community. The question is: Is this the way to go about ensuring their success? Is this a sustainable way of funding community needs?
And what are Whistlers future community needs? Millennium Place is still looking for $2 million. The library and museum need almost $5 million. Those are projects to which the municipality has made commitments and, some would argue, set itself up for more entrepreneurial partnerships. Down the road the community may decide it wants a true performing arts building. Theres a Whistler Centre for Sustainability that will eventually need a home. Who could argue against a better shelter for WAG?
Entrepreneurial partnerships arent necessarily a bad thing, but as Melamed and Councillor Ted Milner said Tuesday, the process is ad hoc; some firmer guidelines are needed. Moreover, as Whistler real estate continues to skyrocket, some formula to ensure the municipality is receiving full value is warranted.
Some would argue that there is nothing new here, that the municipality has always extracted money from developers to pay for community facilities. A charge on commercial developments, for example, generated the employee housing fund.
But there is a policy and formula in place for that; its written down and well understood. Thats not the case with the contributions to community amenities that are now in vogue.
Councillor Davies argued that its not appropriate to formulate a policy because it would fetter councils discretion. Looking at previous examples, he asked how it would be possible to put together a policy that allows for the solutions that have been arrived at.
We dont wish to fetter councils discretion. Whistler is presented with some unique opportunities.
But a more stable, long-term funding plan for the Whistler Housing Authority and commitments to future capital projects only when there is money available are needed. Relying on ad hoc contributions from developers leaves Whistler wide open.