It was standing room only at the Whistler Museum on Thursday, Oct. 6, as about 60 people were on hand for a public hearing related to a rezoning for adventure tourism operator Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWA).
The rezoning would replace CWA's current Temporary Use Permit — set to expire in November 2016 — with permanent zoning in the Callaghan Valley.
Under the proposed zoning, the use of land, buildings and structures would be limited to what is stated in CWA's provincially approved Crown land tenure management plan.
CWA's plans for the area include cabins for staff, a booking centre, celestial observatory and more — all built with reclaimed materials and with a focus on the allure of the natural environment.
"We're creating this incredible experience for people around the world, we're doing it really well, (and) we're internationally known," said CWA owner Allan Crawford, at the outset of the hearing.
"We have a wide range of people here, I see a wide range of interests for the same chunk of land. I think we do a pretty good job of sharing, and I know that a lot of people here may disagree with that, but we're trying our best and we're always looking to improve.
"Come and help me, come and work with me, come and teach me, come and learn from me, whatever you want. I'm open for anybody's input and I'm trying to do the best job that I can, and I plan to build this place, if I'm permitted to do this, as something that everybody in this town would be proud of."
The majority of those who spoke at the public hearing did so in favour of Crawford and CWA.
Attendees — many wearing CWA nametags — spoke of Crawford's commitment to the community and the environment, as well as his contributions to the local economy and his employees, who consider themselves a big family.
"CWA is a good corporate partner in both the community and the region," said Dave Williamson of Cascade Environmental, of which CWA has been a client since 1999.
"They have 50 staff living up and down the corridor... and those staff are raising families and they have economic implications in all of those communities.
"CWA has legal parcels created for the specific uses that are being addressed in this zoning, and they are paying rent for those parcels," Williamson continued.
"The purpose of this rezoning is to allow them to build the services and infrastructures necessary to support their operation: Things like water, sewer, and most importantly, to go to the bank to get mortgages."
But there were a number of concerns raised as well, including many around access for non-motorized groups and a lack of communication between the various stakeholders in the area.
"I don't have any real disagreement with what's been said so far, except that there is a bit of a hint of government and commercial interests working together in presenting the results to the public at a very late stage, and I think this is a problem we really face in Whistler," said Rupert Merer, a longtime local who serves on various committees, including the municipality's Trails Planning Working Group.
Merer said he didn't see how the steep trails around Sproatt Mountain fit into CWA's plans, and wondered about the fate of a rock peak on the northeast ridge of the mountain.
"I think it's in muni lands, and it should remain in muni lands," Merer said. "Our trail will very soon connect to it, and I don't think it should be part of a tenure."
Merer also noted the municipality has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on trails around Sproatt, and wondered if hikers might be shut out. He also bemoaned the loss of a trailhead at the end of a logging road in the Callaghan, after the road was narrowed at the direction of the Ministry of Forests.
"I guess if I want to leave any message, hiker groups need more communication," Merer said. "We're tired of the yellow gates. There are seven yellow gates in this valley, and now we've lost a road, which has been blocked... whenever we see a decent hiking trail, sooner or later it gets a yellow gate across it."
The sentiment about the narrowing of the road, and the need for more co-operation with other user groups in the area, was repeated by at least two other people at the meeting.
Johnny Mikes of the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative talked about the need for good bear management practices.
"I think if the proponent is going to move forward, there should be a state-of-the-art, very progressive plan on bear management," Mikes said. "I'm not accusing the proponent of doing the wrong thing right now, but we are seeing grizzly bears expanding... So whether it's the proper landscaping, certainly education, possibly electrification in some instances, I think that there should be an equal emphasis on bear management."
Though officials said the proposed zoning didn't include anything that wasn't in CWA's already approved management plan, Charles Steele of Ziptrek questioned that statement.
"There are a whole bunch of items that say they are not in the tenure but are in the bylaw, so I just find the process confusing... there's just a lot of stuff in there," Steele said. "I think there are so many items bundled into this that could each and of their own comprise a package of this size... The zipline proposal alone could be a 100-page document of surveys and other details."
The inclusion of a zipline raised other questions for Steele, as well.
"There's a certain limit to the number of identical projects that can exist in this valley, despite the growth of this experience," Steele said. "Ziptrek used to be profitable seven months a year. It now loses money eight months a year since Superfly opened, and this project proposes another zipline course, or courses."
For all the talk of the CWA "family" at the public hearing, if another zipline course were to open, "there are members of our family who are going to suffer as well," Steele noted.
Claire Ruddy of AWARE noted that it appeared some of the uses being considered for the new zoning are not from CWA's 2007 management plan, but from its 2014 plan, which has yet to be approved by the province.
"Let's stick to the existing uses and not create precedence for ones that don't yet have provincial approval," Ruddy said.
AWARE would also like to see a "bigger picture vision" for the Callaghan, "as opposed to assessing developments such as this one in a piecemeal approach," Ruddy said.
The SLRD also received 47 written submissions — 43 in favour and four against.
The SLRD board will review the public hearing minutes and written submissions before considering the bylaw for third reading at an upcoming meeting.