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Despite the fact only 3/7ths of council was present for Monday’s meeting where the terms of the deal to preserve the Emerald Forest were introduced, the significance of this decision should not be overlooked. Although the deal has been introduced in the middle of August, while half of Whistler is on vacation and the other half is pursuing more seasonal interests than local government (local government comes into season every three years, round about November), this is a matter with long-term consequences for everyone even remotely interested in the future of the Whistler Valley. For the record, it’s a three-way deal involving the municipality, Intrawest and Decigon, the group which has owned the 139-acre Emerald Forest for many years. Intrawest is buying the Emerald Forest from Decigon for an undisclosed sum. The municipality is then buying the Emerald Forest from Intrawest for $1 million and 476 bed units which didn’t previously exist. The Emerald Forest will be preserved forever in a nature trust and Intrawest will be allowed to develop a second hotel on the day skier parking lot below the Chateau Whistler. Those are the up-front costs, although there is a possibility the municipality could also be on the hook for upgrading some sewer lines so they have the capacity to handle the volume of sewage coming from the Benchlands after the hotels are built. This potential cost has not yet been determined. One of the reasons the Emerald Forest is valued so highly is because it is the last piece of land in a continuous, preserved green belt between Alta and Green lakes, right in the heart of the valley. Presumably the municipality took a look around to see if there are any other privately held parcels of land they desire or that would fit into a similar overall environmental plan, because there are going to be people who see this deal as establishing a price and a precedent for bed units over and above the development ceiling. It may not happen for a few years, but this deal — which is still dependent on a complex series of bylaws being passed — will be remembered. And many voters will recall (local government season is on the horizon again) that three years ago no candidate for council could foresee a situation where they would lift the bed unit cap. That’s not say this is a bad deal — there’s no question the Emerald Forest is worth preserving and development of a parking lot is much better than development in most any other place in the valley — but only to point out that three years ago no one could see this type of deal arising. It also serves as a reminder that bed units can be used as a currency, and the municipality is still without an arts/entertainment/sports facility on Lot 1 in Village North. It is also worth noting that this deal was done with Decigon’s law suit hanging over the municipality. That law suit was brought about by this council’s decision to "downzone" RR1-zoned land, including the Emerald Forest, by changing the minimum size of subdivision parcels from 20 acres to 100 acres. When the deal is completed the law suit will be dropped. Meanwhile, Intrawest’s role in this deal should not be overlooked. Councillors Monday thanked and praised Intrawest for making preservation of the Emerald Forest a possibility. The company is also ready to emerge from the deal with an additional hotel development. That will bring Intrawest’s remaining major developments in Whistler to five hotels — two on the Blackcomb parking lot and three lodges at Creekside — as well as the Spring Creek subdivision and the exclusive Peaks subdivision. That’s 2,800 bed units in total. This is a significant deal.

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