By Andrew Mitchell
Reconstruction of Lakeside Park could begin in the spring and a tour operator could be chosen by the summer, following a third open house on the park proposal Jan. 9.
The plan would see the park expanded onto an adjoining RMOW property, as well as upgraded with an improved beach, a toddler swim area, a public washroom, a concession area, additional dock space, more grass, upgraded landscaping, more playground equipment, a basketball court, a shower, boat storage, and changes to parking and access.
The most contentious issue for nearby residents is the RMOW’s insistence that the park also include a commercial tour operator, although David Patterson, manager of parks operations, said the final draft does make several compromises. For one, the successful bid to run the tour concession will have to adhere to specific times while making drop-offs to reduce the impact on neighbourhood traffic. For another, the operator will have to use the new public parking lot to unload boats, which will be accessed through the highway entrance to Alta Vista. The result will be a long walk downhill to the area of the park where boats are stored.
“People like it,” said Patterson, referring to the latest iteration of the Lakeside Park Master Plan. “Some people are concerned with the distance you have to walk from the parking lot, primarily because it used to be pretty close, but that’s just change. People will get used to the new parking lot, and support the idea of expanding the park.
“There’s always concern, and valid concern, by residents who are worried that more traffic will move through the subdivision and that’s something we’ve tried to accommodate as best as possible.”
Council will give bylaws for the park plan first two readings prior to the February public hearing. If no objections are raised at the public hearing third reading may be given that same evening. If there are objections third reading of the bylaws probably won’t be considered before council’s March meetings. However, that timing would still allow construction to start in the spring.
A creek was already relocated in late summer as part of the Lakecrest development project, and parts of the park would remain open during the construction. Patterson estimates that it will take two years to complete the park upgrade.
In the meantime, the municipality hopes to award the tour concession before the summer, and may issue a request for proposals from tour operators after first and second reading.
Keenan Moses, who co-owns and operates Whistler Eco Tours with his brother, is hoping his company is selected for the concession. He has a few concerns about the layout of the park and the timing of the process, but believes the final product is a good compromise for tourism and residents.
“It’s going to be beautiful, there is a lot of plusses for everybody,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really popular park for locals and for tourists.”
The distance from the parking lot to the water will be an issue, and Moses says he would have to get dollies to move canoes and kayaks. The timing of the process also makes it difficult to plan for the season.
“We’re already looking at February before this goes through, and from a business perspective that makes it tough. We have brochures to put out, people are calling us and asking where we are going to be next year,” he said. “The process was a little too slow for businesses.”
Still, if the final plan is more acceptable to residents and his business, Moses says all of the surveys and open houses will be worth the effort.
“At the beginning a lot of people were trying to keep us out of the neighbourhood, and the municipality worked hard with both us and the neighbourhood to reach a compromise. This is a resort municipality, and tourism is important to the community. That’s why those homes are worth so much — it’s the bike trails and ski hills and everything the resort has to offer that makes people want to live here. I think (the municipality) did a good job sticking to their guns, but doing it in such a way to minimize the impact of tourism on the neighbourhood in every way possible.”
The Alta Lake property owner’s association agrees with most changes to the park, but has voiced concerns about the tour operator’s concession. Other commercial tour operators who have worked out of the park and the neighbourhood in the past have disrupted traffic in the neighbourhood. They feel Rainbow Park is a more suitable location for a commercial tour concession.
However, the municipality has identified Lakeside Park as a suitable location for a park through the Lakeside Master Plan process and Alta Lake Access Evaluation, given its proximity to the village for pedestrians and vehicles.