Twenty months ago a gaggle of Whistler residents and second homeowners made the decision to spend a Saturday indoors listening to presentations by consultants, rather than go skiing. Four consulting teams spent most of the day explaining their visions for planning Whistlers future and why they should be chosen to take on the task. Members of the public everyone was invited, approximately 200 people showed up then voted for the consulting team they thought presented the best plan. And then the council of the day chose to ignore the popular vote and decided to change the selection process. Instead, the project was redefined and individual consultants were cherry picked from the teams. Some agreed to participate; some did not.
This was the tentative start of Whistlers Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, also known as Whistler. Its Our Future. It hasnt picked up much steam since then.
Revising the consultant-hiring process set the timetable back a couple of months. Whistler. Its Our Future was launched to the public in July of 2002. Information meetings, where the public was invited to hear from the consultants and then identify priorities, dragged on into the fall in an election year when, perhaps understandably, the process slowed down. A stalemate for the last council seat in November precipitated a runoff election in January of this year. The delay in assembling the new council undoubtedly set things back again.
Nevertheless, a process that was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2002, that has been identified as one of the top priorities of the present and the previous council, that has been sold to Whistlerites as critical to defining the future of their community even though most havent heard anything about it since last fall, is obviously in need of some rejuvenation.
It is, therefore, welcome news that former director of planning Mike Vance has been hired to shepherd the CSP process and be point man for the municipality on the Olympic development. Vance, who is returning from a five-year stint in Mammoth, California, understands Whistlers development history as well as anyone. He was in charge of drafting the 1993 Official Community Plan and the Village North plan. He has worked on the development side, for the original owners of Blackcomb, as well as the municipal side. He was also involved in the difficult early days of Whistler when the provincial government was calling the shots, as it will be again with the Olympic development.
The challenge now is to rebuild public interest in participating in the CSP process. Municipal hall deserves some credit for trying innovative ideas like inviting the public to vote on consultants and holding meetings specifically for 18-24-year-olds, but a lot of people also need to be convinced the process is worth their time.
In addition to a new man in charge of the process, a couple of things may help restore interest: 1) an advisory group of residents has been meeting with municipal staff over the summer to provide feedback on the process to date; 2) the Olympic decision has been made.
The Olympic decision answers one question fundamental to the CSP: Is there going to be further physical growth in Whistler? That answer probably wasnt in much doubt, but now its clarified. The issue is where and how that growth going to be directed.
And now that Vancouver and Whistler have been awarded the 2010 Olympics the CSP process is probably more important than ever. The organizing committee for the Olympics is expected to be up and running in the next couple of months before the CSP process is finalized. Whistler needs to decide what it wants this area to look like before the OCOG steamroller gains too much momentum.
Any steps to facilitate the CSP process, therefore, are encouraged.