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GFA exclusion update moves ahead

Council briefs: Memorial bench update

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The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is moving ahead with a bylaw amendment intended to address changing neighbourhood form and character.

At its Dec. 6 meeting, council gave first and second readings to a bylaw to amend gross floor area exclusion (GFA) regulations for basement areas.

The hope is that the changes will rein in the increasing size of new builds in Whistler.

"Essentially, the rule change would be to allow the exclusion only for the portions of the basement that are below ground, or in ground, to qualify," said director of planning Mike Kirkegaard in his report to council.

The amendment will add a new term to the zoning bylaw — "in-ground basement floor area" — that allows the exclusion for those portions of the basement area that are in-ground.

"That portion, to qualify, has to be at least 50 per cent within the ground relative to the wall height and the ground on the adjoining wall," Kirkegaard said.

A public hearing will take place before adoption.

After adoption, all new building permit applications will be subject to the new rules. Construction already completed or authorized by a valid building permit between May 15, 2012 and November 15, 2016 will be grandfathered in under existing rules.

The proposed bylaw also keeps the existing "basement floor area" exclusion for floor area that existed prior to May 15, 2012, to allow homeowners to continue to legitimize previously constructed "illegal spaces."

After the presentation, Coun. John Grills asked if anyone has raised any concerns about the proposed changes at municipal hall.

"We've had some specific interest from one neighbourhood area, Kadenwood," Kirkegaard said.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden noted the "tremendous amount" of work that went into revising the bylaw.

"I'm still convinced that addressing the illegal space was the right thing to do," the mayor said.

"We knew when we passed the original amendments that there may be some tweaking required over time, and this is maybe a little bit more than tweaking, but it's still the right thing to do and I appreciate the work that everybody has put into this."

Memorial bench update

In October, Pique published a letter to the editor from prominent local resident Kerry Dennehy that was critical of the RMOW's memorial bench program.

The initiative has come under fire from several bench-holders who were surprised to learn the memorial they paid to install would not be maintained in perpetuity. With the benches nearing the end of their supposed 15-year lifespan, program participants were given several options: have the bench and/or tribute plaque returned, or pay $3,000 to replace it with more durable materials for a 10-year term.

A handful of families — including the Dennehys — publicly criticized the municipality for the handling of the bench program. But, as it turns out, the Dennehys' bench was donated to them by the RMOW in the early 2000s.

The municipality gifted a total of eight benches at that time "in recognition of community contributions." They will all be grandfathered into the existing tribute program at the municipality's expense.

The RMOW said there was no formal policy in place at the time to maintain the donated benches over the long term.

The Memorial Bench Program was created in 1990 as a way for people to commemorate a person or event. Forty-six benches were installed before the program was suspended in 2010 over concerns of rising maintenance costs.

For those who paid $1,500 for a bench under the previous program, the situation remains the same: they will have to either pay up to replace their original bench or have it returned to them at no cost.

-Brandon Barrett

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