Whistler's artists are not happy about fees associated with the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) proposed home-based studio Temporary Use Permits (TUP).
At a public hearing in regards to the related bylaw amendments, several artists spoke out against the $750 fee that would be levied on top of existing business licensing costs.
"Why would the RMOW penalize artists with a $750 fee when we already have and buy a business license and are members of the chamber of commerce and pay municipal taxes to be where we are now?" asked Vincent Massey, who has been living in Whistler since 1966 and practicing his art in his Alpine Meadows studio since 1985.
Passing the bylaw amendments "would only send a message to the many talented artists wishing to call Whistler home that they are not welcome," Massey said.
Kathleen Tennock raised a similar point, saying the fee could be seen as an attempt to control the standard of art that's on display in Whistler.
"My concern is that it may be more a fear-based cost that was implemented to try and be a deterrent to artists to apply that are not established, and may not be — from council or the RMOW's perspective — up to the level of what we would want to see here in Whistler," Tennock said.
"If we're trying to discourage grassroots art development, and we only want to propose or put forth something that is more polished and more developed, then I think it would not be in the artists' best interest and it would also not be in the best interest of the visitor."
Though not an artist himself, Tim Smith said he does operate a licensed, home-based business, and feels that artists should be exempt from those same bylaws.
Smith suggested the RMOW look at how Sooke has managed home-based studios, charging just $50 per year on top of a commercial business license.
He also expressed concern over wording in the bylaw amendments that would make every artist applicant subject to review and approval by the RMOW based on "quality and appropriateness."
"The idea of government oversight of any kind over works of art is very disturbing," Smith said. "Not only is the concept of art censors offensive, this is the sort of PR blunder that will put us on the national news — and not in a good light."
In a phone call before the public hearing, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden explained the RMOW's reasoning behind the fee.
"We've got an obligation to the taxpayers... that the administrative work that goes along with processing those, to a certain extent, is recovered from the person who is going to benefit from it," she said, adding that the fee is consistent with municipal policies.
"We heard from the gallery owners that they support this home-based artist studios project, provided that there was somewhat of an even playing field with respect to fees and taxes, because of course the gallery owners in the village pay a significant amount of money in commercial property taxes annually, which will not be the case for home-based artist studios.
"So I'm a little perplexed by some of the commentary we've received so far."
The bylaws will be brought back for third reading at an upcoming council meeting.
COUNCIL PLAYS HOST TO GOLDSMITH-JONES AT ANNUAL RETREAT
During its annual strategic planning retreat at the Delta Whistler Village Suites last week, council had the honour of being the first in the riding to sit down with new MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones.
"We raised the issue of the cell tower, because that's just been sitting out there and we'd like to see that go away," Wilhelm-Morden said.
"We talked about the Syrian refugee situation and the fact that we're having a public information session in a couple of weeks, (and) we spoke about infrastructure grants and what might be coming down the pipe in that regard. There was some discussion about environmental issues as well, and climate change of course."
But even without the visit from Goldsmith-Jones, the retreat's agenda was jam-packed with discussion items, the mayor said.
"We talked about housing and the accommodation mix for both residents and visitors, and what needs to be done to further understand that issue," she said.
"We talked about the environment, we talked about transportation planning... we agreed that we had to maintain our focus on visitation and the growth of the resort and we also agreed that we have to continue to focus on prudent fiscal management."
With three years left in mayor and council's term, there's a lot Wilhelm-Morden would like to see accomplished.
"Three years is usually the length of a term, so we do have lots of time to accomplish what we need to do... certainly getting a grip on both the transportation and housing issues are big," she said.
"We want to ensure that some of the things that are underway now are completed, like the Gateway Loop and the Master Wayfinding and guest arrival strategy, the Cultural Connector... all of these things are well underway and we want to see them complete."
RMOW APPLIES FOR FIRESMART GRANT
The RMOW is seeking some more suitable guidelines around FireSmart.
That's the motivation behind a $10,000 grant application with the Union of B.C. Municipalities' 2016 FireSmart Grant Program approved by council Dec. 1.
If the grant is approved, the money would be used to create a manual with a set of FireSmart guidelines more attuned to the wetter coastal rainforest ecosystem found around Whistler.
The RMOW would hire a fire ecologist to prepare the guidelines and manual, which would be transferable to other similar communities set in the coastal forest ecosystems.
"Fire-smarting is an ongoing project, and it's becoming an increasingly important project," Wilhelm-Morden said. "We just want to make sure that we've got it right."
LIQUOR LICENSING CHANGES APPROVED
With the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival set to return to the resort this January, at its Dec. 1 meeting council approved a one-night extension of liquor licensing at the Whistler Conference Centre for the festival's Snowball event.
Liquor sales at the conference centre will be extended until 4 a.m. on the night of Jan. 30, 2016.
Also at the Dec. 1 meeting, council approved permanent changes to the Westin Resort and Spa's liquor license, extending the liquor license hours for the FireRock Lounge from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Sunday.
Council also approved an application to add the Mountain Club to the existing FireRock liquor license.