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Hard cap on growth an issue at OCP public hearing

Handful speak of concerns joining a chorus of dozens in letters


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Whistler Blackcomb wants council to open the door on discussions to lift the cap on development in the future.

That way the mountains can stay competitive while pumping money into the resort in the years to come.

In a last minute surprise plea on the topic, vice president of planning, government relations and special projects Doug Forseth took the microphone at Tuesday's public hearing on the Official Community Plan, which embeds the hard cap of 61,000 bed units in the municipal plan, effectively stymieing development.

"As we go forward we'd like to think that potentially some recognition would be given to the investment that Whistler Blackcomb has made here," said Forseth, of the $340 million that WB has spent on infrastructure over the years.

He wasn't asking for a lift to the cap; rather, if development rights, or bed units, are available in the future, that Whistler Blackcomb get consideration for some.

Part of the deal would be an understanding that any profits from its development would be reinvested back into the mountains to keep them competitive and sustainable.

"Theoretically, we have earned a lot more bed units than we have been granted here in Whistler," said Forseth, who would not elaborate on just how many WB has earned based on investment and building the carrying capacity of the resort.

Whistler was given 7,500, as was Blackcomb, for a total of 15,000 bed units. They were used to develop real estate in Whistler.

Forseth called it the "normal reward" that other ski resorts get in the province for investing. WB's "reward," unlike its competitors, said Forseth, stopped at 15,000 out of respect for the bed cap.

While there are no plans to develop real estate in this particular economy, having the potential down the road would keep Whistler Blackcomb at the top of its game, said Forseth.

"It should help hold the community by reinvigorating, adding something new, keeping us in contact with the competition," he said. "So we have a formula that helps sustain our resort, basically. Is it good for Whistler Blackcomb? Yes. But is it good for this community? Yes."

He apologized to council for bringing Whistler Blackcomb's concerns to the table so late in the process.

Forseth, however, wasn't the only one to take issue with the hard cap defined in the OCP.

Dr. Doug Player, the face of the Whistler International Campus proposal, cut his European trip short and flew in from Vienna Tuesday, where he had just inked another partnership for the Whistler school, in order to attend the public hearing.

"I fully understand that it (the bed cap) is in our community DNA in Whistler," Player told council.

"We do not seek to change the hard bed cap but rather to qualify it."

Specifically, the OCP does not explain if student accommodation would be over and above the cap, much like resident housing.

Player had other issues too, namely the new development permit guidelines for wetlands and riparian areas in the OCP, which go beyond provincial regulations.

Peter Lang, the architect representing OKA Holdings, which owns the land slated for the campus development, backed up Player's concerns with the wetlands guidelines.

"It essentially removes the value of this site," said Lang of the Alpha Creek lands just north of Function Junction. "The land becomes essentially sterilized."

The handful of people who spoke at the public hearing joined the chorus of 33 letter-writers who also shared concerns on the OCP ranging from the bed cap, to First Nations who are also concerned about the hard cap on development as it relates to Crown land where they have claimed aboriginal rights and titles, to the asphalt plant.

Updating the OCP is a top priority of this council, just as it was for the last council.

Council did not consider third reading of the OCP bylaws Tuesday night, as is practice when there is opposition to the bylaws at the public hearing.

"I anticipate it will come before us on the 20th of November," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Player implored council to take its time. "This document sets our future course as a community," he said. "This is your biggest decision and I think you need to get it right."

Don't race to the finish line, he cautioned.