Opinion » Editorial


It has all the ingredients that make small-town politics fun: outrage, intrigue, a deal with the biggest company in town, threats, deceit (according to some), ransom demands (according to others), and a bus-load of outraged-intrigued-threatening condo owners from Vancouver has even been organized for the sequel. It’s the proposed deal for the Emerald Forest, not a re-enactment of the Lindbergh kidnapping. Act II goes Tuesday, Sept. 7 at municipal hall. Not since the 1990 public hearing on the Nicklaus North golf course have Whistlerites been so excited about a development deal. This is good; people who care passionately about issues and affairs in their town help create a far healthier town than a populace that sits back complacently and takes no interest. But the formation of a "grass roots" movement to defeat all councillors who campaigned on a promise not to increase the bed unit cap suggests that passion may be preventing some of us from a proper evaluation of the proposed Emerald Forest deal. Reaction at the public hearing which opened Aug. 23, was polarized. Most speakers were dead against it, for reasons which ranged from the loss of a tennis court and loss of views, to violation of a sacred trust, the 52,500 bed unit cap. At the other end of the spectrum were a few speakers who suggested preserving the Emerald Forest was worthwhile at almost any cost. Following the meeting one veteran observer of the political scene in Whistler acknowledged that the deal will eventually come down to a yes or no vote, but suggested the polarized views shed little light on the values being considered. "Maybe it’s just a close call," he said, of trading 476 bed units and $1 million for preservation of the Emerald Forest. Some people, in arguing against the deal, have suggested raising the bed unit cap is a principle that shouldn’t be violated. But if the cap on development was going to be increased by two bed units, rather than 476, would people still be opposed? Likely not. And if that is the case then it would seem the issue is a matter of scale, rather than principle. In other words, many people feel 476 bed units is too high a price to pay for the Emerald Forest. The number of bed units that the Emerald Forest is worth is something that could be argued forever, but the 52,500 bed unit ceiling has already been breached. The official total, prior to the creation of the additional 476 bed units for the proposed deal, is 54,623. That figure includes developed and undeveloped bed units as well as employee housing projects, which have not previously been counted. Employee housing has pushed the total beyond 52,500, but so have market forces. The BC Rail lands are an example. Most of the 534 acres the Crown corporation owns on the west side of Alta Lake are zoned RR1, which permits one single family house, and so those lands have for years been counted as six bed units. But BC Rail has been granted permission by the province to subdivide the land, which creates 24 RR1 parcels. So now, instead of counting as six bed units the lands suddenly represent 144 bed units. But all of those arguments obscure the true value of the Emerald Forest. It is the last piece of what would be a continuous strip of protected land from Alta Lake to Green Lake and extending up 21 Mile Creek. It is more than 139 acres; it is part of a whole, diverse natural corridor. It may be telling that much of Whistler seems to want to protect the proposed 500,000 hectare Stoltmann national park, even commissioning an economic analysis of what benefits a national park would bring to Whistler and the rest of the corridor. But when it comes to actually having to pay to protect 139 acres within the municipality we are more hesitant.