Opinion » Editorial


In six months, when those who bother to vote in municipal elections go to the polls, will the current members of Whistler council be remembered for the work they’ve done in establishing long-term policies and directions for the municipality (Vision 2002, the environmental strategy, establishing the Whistler Housing Authority), or for the way they’ve botched the tourist accommodation issue? In April, after a couple of stormy public hearings on tourist accommodation rezoning applications where neighbours voiced their opposition loud and clear, councillors decided it was time to take another look at their policy. The six-week reflection period expired Monday. Council’s decision: to keep chalets and villas out of residential neighbourhoods, confining any new ones to the Benchlands, Taluswood, areas which have the Phase I rental pool covenant and new subdivisions. This change in policy comes about a year after announcing tourist accommodation rezoning applications would be accepted from all subdivisions, and after at least 38 applications had been received. And keep in mind the policy to deal with tourist accommodation through rezoning came after an aborted effort to deal with it through temporary commercial use permits (TCUPs) and after some consideration was given to limiting all chalets and villas to designated Resort lands. So, after nearly three years of meandering there is finally a policy on tourist accommodation that all councillors support. (Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden never supported tourist accommodation zoning in residential neighbourhoods; Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has declared a conflict of interest whenever tourist accommodation issues have come up and has not been part of those discussions.) But the cost of taking three years, and numerous detours, to get to that policy is huge. Applicants’ rezoning fees will be returned, but they will still be out whatever costs they incurred to bring their homes into compliance with the now defunct rezoning guidelines. Of more significance to taxpayers is the time municipal staff have spent on rezoning applications which will now not be considered. And, of course, there may be legal challenges. Looking back, you can see where the whole tourist accommodation issue went awry. It was originally the bed & breakfast and pension owners who asked the municipality to enforce its bylaw prohibiting nightly rentals in single-family houses, or else have those operators pay the same fees and taxes as B&Bs and pensions. Chalet accommodation was a significant part of the emerging British skier market three years ago, which brought the WRA and Whistler-Blackcomb into the issue, in support of residential tourist accommodation. Language schools, property managers, tour operators and people who could only afford to keep their homes by renting them were also vocal supporters of tourist accommodation. It wasn’t until the rezoning process was decided upon and the first applications came to public hearings this year that the neighbours of proposed tourist accommodations were heard. It’s been an expensive, frustrating three-year lesson. Some of those frustrations will be seen in the November elections.