RMOW ‘buys’ Emerald Forest for $1 million and 500 bed units By Bob Barnett The Resort Municipality of Whistler will preserve the Emerald Forest by buying it with approximately 500 new bed units, a move which exceeds Whistler’s self-imposed cap on development. A complex deal involving Intrawest, the Decigon group which owns the Emerald Forest, and the municipality was given initial approval by the four council members present for Monday night’s regular meeting. The deal will see Intrawest purchase the 139 acre Emerald Forest from Decigon for an undisclosed price. The land will then be turned over to the municipality for $1 million and held in a trust. The $1 million in municipal money will come from previous years’ surpluses and reserves. A tax increase will not be required. In return, the municipality will "create" 476 bed units and transfer the 36 bed units which the Emerald Forest lands represent, to allow Intrawest to develop a 192-room hotel on Lot 5 on the Blackcomb Benchlands. Lot 5 is the northern end of what is currently a day skier parking lot, below the Chateau Whistler. Intrawest also intends to build a 204-room hotel on Lot E, the section of the parking lot between Lot 5 and the Intrawest Resort and Club. The two hotel developments will eliminate all day skier parking in the area. Additional parking will be developed at the Base 2 area of Blackcomb and greater efficiency is expected by paving Lots 1 through 4. The significance of the deal, which has taken more than two years to pull together, is inversely proportional to the number of council members at Monday’s meeting. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillors Stephanie Sloan and Ted Milner were all absent. But Councillors Ken Melamed, Dave Kirk and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and acting Mayor Kristi Wells all offered opinions. "Ultimately it comes down to price: are bed units and $1 million too high?" Wilhelm-Morden said in summing up the deal. "I don’t think the price is too high, but history will ultimately judge that." Wells said in blunt terms what council was doing was "using bed units as currency to buy the Emerald Forest." Kirk noted it was the first time a council has gone to the community with a proposal to exceed the bed unit cap. A clause in the Official Community Plan allows consideration of projects in excess of the bed unit cap if the development a) provides clear and substantial benefits to the community and the resort; b) is supported by the community, in the opinion of council; c) will not cause unacceptable impacts on the community, resort or environment; d) meets all applicable criteria set out in the OCP. "It’s precedent setting in a sense, but it sets a very, very high benchmark for this clause to be used," Kirk said. Melamed said he campaigned on a promise to not exceed the bed unit cap and "had to wrestle with the decision," but concluded: "I think this is a low cost. The cost to the community is actually quite small in terms of growth." He thanked Intrawest for making the deal work. "They didn’t have to do this — certainly they benefit — but they are the ones that made it work," Melamed said. Wilhelm-Morden called the Emerald Forest "139 acres of absolutely prime wildlife habitat" and "our own Stanley Park." Acquisition of the land is the final step in creating a green belt between Alta Lake and Green Lake, including a stretch of the River of Golden Dreams. Wilhelm-Morden felt preserving the Emerald Forest was critical and had previously pushed for expropriation of the lands but couldn’t find support for that move among the rest of council. A complex series of bylaws, including zoning amendment and OCP amendment bylaws for both the Lot 5 and Lot E developments, were given first and second reading Monday. They will be the subject of a public hearing in September. Municipal acquisition of the Emerald Forest is conditional on the Lot 5 rezoning being approved and the allocation of new bed units. There is still a chance the hotel developments could cost the municipality more than $1 million and 500 bed units. Initial projections are each hotel development will produce sewer flows exceeding the municipality’s standard of 50 per cent of design capacity. If it’s determined the flows are beyond the margin of safety, the municipality will bear the cost of increasing the capacity of the sewer line. An estimate of what this cost could be is expected prior to the public hearing.