More than a year and a half after it began, Whistler’s latest great issue was wrestled to the ground by the seven members of council Monday night. While London Drugs will not be a part of the Whistler Village, at least in the foreseeable future, the debate exposed several other issues that need to be dealt with, including the state of retail in the village, affordability and the precarious balance between community and visitor needs in a place the size of Whistler.
The passion, and the vitriol, that the London Drugs/Larco rezoning generated in recent weeks was palpable Monday night. Council members were nervous; municipal staff was mindful of what was going on behind their backs and some members of the public looked like they were itching for a fight. And after presentations from staff, Larco representative Jonathan Lazar, London Drugs supporters and others who questioned various aspects of the whole process, council members finally had their say.
As each council member spoke it became apparent that most had thought long and hard about this decision. They had listened. They had read all the letters and all the names and comments on the petitions. With staff’s assistance they had studied the history of the Larco site, including the “found” underground space and the previous rezonings of that space. They considered the state of retail in the village and acknowledged it is not what it should be. They heard residents’ call to address affordability, and they weighed that against visitors’ expectations that the village be something more than a mall. And then, independently one presumes, they came to their decision.
And it was unanimous. Larco’s rezoning application was rejected.
Several council members made the point that the issue was not London Drugs, it was a rezoning application. Some may consider this splitting hairs, or perhaps a vengeful move against an unpopular landlord. It was neither.
As Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden pointed out, Larco let London Drugs do “all the heavy lifting” in this matter. Polls, petitions, ad campaigns and letters to the editor showed many Whistlerites do want London Drugs in town. Several council members acknowledged that and said they would welcome London Drugs, but not at 17,000 square feet in the village.
While the issue for many residents was London Drugs, yes or no, that was not the issue before council. And council was right to recognize this. It’s now time to move on and address other issues that were exposed in this debate.
Affordability is one. Whether or not London Drugs would have made Whistler more affordable is a moot point now. But besides discounted recreation passes, what else is being done to address affordability? Councillor Gord McKeever stated in the context of London Drugs Monday that “… focusing our efforts on resident housing will have a bigger impact on affordability.” Point taken. Make it happen.