“Whistler kills Aspen.”
– Gene Simmons, April 21, 2008 on genesimmons.com
If the long-tongued Whistler homeowner sticks around, he’ll really know.
Simmons, who is at least as much entrepreneur as rock star, is another American who has “discovered” Whistler. He may have been helped in this discovery by his Canadian-born partner, but one way or another he’s decided to invest some time and money in our town.
Here’s hoping he can persuade some of their friends and countrymen to do likewise. Because as Diana Lyons of whistler.com told Whistler Council Monday, the U.S. market has declined 20 per cent since November.
The good news is that Australians, Brits and others have helped make up for the decline in U.S. visits. The scary news is that under the “financial tools” agreement with the province, the municipality’s revenue is now tied more closely to hotel room occupancy than ever before.
That was one in a series of understated warning signs emanating from council chambers Monday. It started with an afternoon meeting between the board of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and council to discuss municipal budgets and partnerships. The messages from the chamber were that: a) more meaningful public input into municipal budgets is needed and b) partners can agree on many things but they still represent their own best interests. The latter is a point that sometimes seems to be overlooked in the tight circle of managers who make up most of the influential committees in town.
In the evening council session the most endangered bear in Whistler, the Teddy Bear Daycare, resurfaced. The board of the Maurice Young Millennium Place Society, having found that there are daycare spaces available elsewhere in Whistler and after examining its mandate, decided that it should close the money-losing Teddy Bear and use the space to further the arts and culture in Whistler. Having thought this through and come to a decision the board suggested if parents who use the daycare have concerns they should talk to the new landlord of the building and the financier of the society, the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Which led to Monday evening’s presentation.
The response from council was vague: The municipality doesn’t own the building, yet. It’s incongruous for council to ask people to volunteer to sit on the board and then overrule their decision.
While true, the responses didn’t show the sort of leadership that one might expect. It’s been known for more than a year that the municipality would take ownership of the building. The closing of the daycare has been public knowledge for several weeks. Does council support the MY Millennium Place Society board decision or not?
Then it was on to the Riverside Campground expansion. An impressive lineup of speakers — albeit an orchestrated lineup, but that’s the case with most public hearings — spoke in favour of the expansion for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is a local developer re-investing in Whistler and helping diversify the types of accommodation available. Several letters in support of the proposal were received. No one spoke or wrote in opposition of the proposed development.
Yet Mayor Ken Melamed declared he wasn’t going to bring the bylaw forward for third reading Monday night. That was challenged by Councillor Tim Wake, who sought clarification on whether that was the mayor’s decision or council’s. In the end, the rezoning application for the campground expansion received third reading.
The local chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders Association also made a presentation to council Monday. They had spent their own time and money to come up with a formula to deal with non-conforming space in houses. The issue is believed to be quite common. And it has an impact on municipal tax revenues.
But when municipal staff was asked for their thoughts on the association’s presentation council was told staff hope to have a report to them during this council term .
Municipal staff has spent time developing a green building policy (and noted in presenting it that “policy is easy to enact but harder to enforce”), just as Whistler nears buildout. But developing a policy that would have an impact on annual tax revenues seems to have been less of a priority.
That brought a response from Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who said council must deal with non-conforming space this term .
And so it went. Oh, and by the way, council adopted a bylaw authorizing the municipality to borrow up to $100 million for five years.
Perhaps when Mr. Simmons gets his tax notice he’ll have another idea of what Whistler kills.