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Editorial

Utopia, a work in progress

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Imagine… another development proposal for the Parkhurst lands.

There’s a nice looking 27-page brochure going around that uses all the right words — “holistic”, “sustainable”, “wellness centre”, “ecological values”, “aging in place” — without really stating what it is the proponents want to build on the 281 acres at the north end of Green Lake. The brochure refers to a “prototype for sustainable neighbourhoods,” where 75 per cent of the land will be preserved. “Parkhurst at Green Lake can be Whistler’s real on-the-ground model of sustainable development in the form of a complete community — at a scale large enough to demonstrate the depth of Whistler’s commitment to sustainable development.” There’s even a suggestion that the railway tracks may be moved to a tunnel, to facilitate access to the lake and complete the network of paths that will be used by self-propelled and zero-emission vehicles.

This is about the eighth or ninth vision of utopia proposed for the Parkhurst lands; a new one comes along every few years when the property changes hands. All those acres of waterfront property, the historic mill site… they seem to get developers dreaming about what they could do for Whistler if they were just allowed to do what the situation seems to be begging for — developing the land.

Fortunately, there are only enough bed units connected with the property to build a few houses, and there’s very little interest in creating new bed units and providing additional development rights. The owners of the Alpha Creek lands face a similar situation. Their proposal for a university, floated earlier this year, hasn’t been tossed so much as a life ring.

Part of the reason neither proposal has gone very far is the sheer volume of residential development in and around Whistler that is still to come. There is, of course the athletes’ village, which will become home to approximately 240 families in about two and a half years. But quite apart from the Olympics, there will be the Holborn group’s redevelopment of the Whistler Racquet Club; Cressey’s development of Fitzsimmons Walk on the former Shoestring Lodge site; the last phase of Nicklaus North on the west side of the highway; the Cheakamus North site will eventually have to be developed to link the Bayshores and Spring Creek subdivisions, an obvious connection that a previous council decided not to burden Intrawest with when it approved the Whistler South plan. And Rainbow, which has final zoning approval, will eventually be built, by someone.

To the north of Whistler, 200 single-family lots are being developed at Green Lake Estates. To the south, a 55,000 square foot lodge with heli-pads is now proposed for the Callaghan Valley, near the golf course the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations will be building.

  The two First Nations will be very active in Whistler over the next few years. They hold enough bed units to build 75 single family homes and have at least a couple of sites in mind: the former highways works yard opposite Alta Vista, which has enough space for 10-12 ski-in, ski-out homes, and a parcel above the Rainbow development. They also have plans for a gas station and convenience store at Function Junction.

That’s enough development to leave any small town grappling to understand how it will change the dynamics of the community. For a small town that still believes in a cap on development, the tooth fairy and the Olympics it’s mind-boggling.

Of course, the subprime mortgage debacle is just starting to be understood and to the south of us some people are whispering “recession”. Both may slow the pace of development.

A more pertinent question might be: Does Whistler have the social and physical infrastructure to support what we have built, let alone what will be built in the future? Somehow we have ended up with a $100 million bobsled track, yet we’re trying to find a place to squeeze some trailers in before next winter so that there are a few more beds for seasonal employees. Seniors housing has been an issue begging to be addressed for 15 years; a centre for sustainability is already a financial reality and will probably be a physical reality in three years. A sewage system was the first order of business when the municipality was incorporated in 1975, but the sewer line still hasn’t been extended to the oldest neighbourhood in the valley.

It is not that these issues have been ignored. Indeed, there are comprehensive plans for more affordable housing for seasonal and permanent residents; there is a plan for seniors housing; the sewer will be extended to homes on the west side of Alta Lake. These and other infrastructure issues are complicated because they involve partnerships — other levels of government and/or private developers, each of whom has their own priorities.

But the bottom line is they haven’t happened, yet. And still we keep planning and building new utopias.

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