By Alison Taylor
Council felt the heavy burden of their roles as decision-makers this week as they made what could be the most unpopular decision of their term.
Despite a groundswell of community support, all seven members were unanimous in their vote Monday night against a rezoning application that would have paved the way for a London Drugs store in the village. It was not an easy decision.
“This was, for me, a gut wrenching issue,” said Mayor Ken Melamed late Monday night after the council meeting. “We don’t relish having to disagree with the community.
“I feel a certain amount of anguish because I know that there are people who are going to be dissatisfied with the decision and feel like I’ve betrayed them. And I take that personally and I have to try and mend those relationships.
“It doesn’t end tonight.”
Monday’s decision does end, however, 22 months of debate and speculation over a potential London Drugs store, which could have offered cheaper every-day goods to local residents.
For many it was seen as a chance to make life in Whistler just a little more affordable.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of anger out there (over this decision),” said resident Jim Watts, who gathered more than 1,000 signatures on an online petition supporting London Drugs and who attended Monday’s meeting to hear the rationale for council’s decision.
“I just think they don’t have a better plan for affordability.”
That point wasn’t lost on council despite their decision.
The mayor said it’s a continual challenge balancing the needs and wants of the community with the interests of the resort.
“We are a resort community,” he said. “It’s a unique animal.
“There are choices that local residents have to make to live here and we can’t be all things to all people.”
The community, he added, agreed during the Whistler 2020 consultation process that Whistler was a tourism destination, and the 2020 process forms the backbone of the town’s sustainability plan.
“We don’t exist without those visitors,” said Melamed. “We know they’re not going to travel here for London Drugs.”
He was grateful to have a unanimous council decision although he admitted it was very interesting to see every councillor vote against the rezoning despite the obvious popular support for London Drugs.
When asked to explain that he said:
“It’s not about London Drugs.”