Opinion » Editorial


A student of Whistler, if there is such a thing, could have gone a long way toward understanding this town by attending the three public meetings held at the conference centre this month. In the space of seven days public hearings were held on the proposed Emerald Forest/Lot 5 deal and Intrawest’s Whistler South Comprehensive Development Strategy, and an information meeting was held on the sewer connection to Emerald Estates. The three meetings showed, despite everyone’s best effort to build a cohesive resort community, a number of dichotomies inherent in Whistler today. The proposed Emerald Forest/Lot 5 deal has largely — but by no means exclusively — pitted second homeowners of Benchlands condos against the proposal because of the hotel which would be built on Lot 5, while many full-time Whistler residents are in favour of the deal because it will preserve the Emerald Forest. Those who called for a tax increase to purchase the Emerald Forest outright seemed to have plenty of support at the public hearing. They would not have found that same support at Saturday’s meeting on the Emerald Estates sewer. As the sewer proposal now stands, Emerald Estates property owners will each be hit with a bill of between $12,000 and $24,000. Several people Saturday spoke proudly of how they have worked to be able to afford to buy homes in Emerald Estates, but will be forced to sell and quite likely leave Whistler if the sewer costs are not substantially reduced. Both the Emerald Forest deal and the Emerald Estates sewer show the difficulty in trying to do today, as Whistler is on the verge of buildout and property values are at all-time highs, things that should have been done years ago. During the mid-80s Whistler was struggling to survive and then recover from a recession. But during the early ’90s development was so rapid there was no time to plan for things which are now identified as priorities. Things such as protecting the environment and keeping Whistler affordable. This was not entirely the municipality’s fault; the provincial government’s decision to sell off the Village North parcels as rapidly as it did contributed to Whistler being overwhelmed with development. Another of those core values that was neglected is represented by the second elementary school in the Whistler South Comprehensive Development Strategy. The school is, for the municipality, the key component of the whole development package, which includes redevelopment of Creekside and the creation of The Peaks and Spring Creek subdivisions. Certainly the municipality would like to see the redevelopment of Creekside and establish how Intrawest is going to use most of its remaining bed units, but it is desperate for another school. And with no other school site readily available the municipality has little choice but to accept Intrawest’s giant take-it-or-leave-it proposal if it wants the school to open by September 2001. The public hearing on the Whistler South plan also offered a glimpse of Whistler’s relationship with Intrawest. Several people praised Intrawest — "The Empire," as one speaker called the company — and most recognized that Intrawest’s size and expertise have been crucial to Whistler’s success. But at the same time many people remember that it was small businesses and individuals that stuck it out through the recession of the ’80s and provided the foundation for Whistler’s success in the ’90s. Those people asked that opportunities be provided for small businesses to invest in Intrawest’s plans. A student of Whistler might not find have found all the answers at these three meetings, but they would have provided interesting data for an analysis of Whistler in 1999.