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Meredith disagrees with court finding in Rainbow expropriation

Municipality ordered to pay Saxton family at least $1 million in 23-year-old case




The man behind the 23-year-old expropriation deal for Rainbow Park disagrees with the recent Supreme Court decision to award the previous landowners more money - at least $1 million more.

The decision means the Resort Municipality of Whistler needs to find at least $1 million, and likely much more if more than 20 years of interest is factored in, to settle the decades old dispute.

"I totally disagree with the decision," said Drew Meredith, who has been a realtor in Whistler for 35 years. "I think it's totally flawed."

"Things have changed dramatically (in real estate) since then... Hindsight is 20/20."

On Wednesday, March 10, Justice Elaine Adair ruled in favour of the Vancouver-based Saxton family and concluded that the market value of the 108 acres of land on the shores of Alta Lake was worth $1.3 million in 1987, and not the $367,000 paid to them.

Meredith was mayor at the time of the expropriation, a time when Whistler was desperate for more park space.

The resort was emerging from the devastating recession of the early '80s and its future looked bright. Intrawest had just purchased Blackcomb Mountain and was advancing its real estate development program.

"I convinced council to go down the expropriation route, and I'm proud of it," said Meredith.

"I never felt that we stole anything."

Rainbow Park has become one of the most popular parks in Whistler, with a large beach area, volleyball courts and a large grassy area for picnics and games.

The Saxton family had owned the property for 17 years before it was expropriated.

It has always been one of the prime pieces of real estate in Whistler. Myrtle and Alex Philip developed the valley's first commercial resort, the Rainbow Lodge, on the property in 1914.

A fire destroyed the main lodge building in 1977. By the time the municipality expropriated the land all that remained were the 40 waterfront cabins of Rainbow Lodge.

Andrew Saxton, who spoke on behalf of his family at the trial, is the Conservative MP for North Vancouver. According to his Ottawa office, Saxton offered "no comment" on the trial and its outcome this week.

At the heart of the legal debate was a disagreement on what the property was worth in 1987.

The 108 acres were zoned Rural Resource 1 and, as such, could be subdivided into five "estate lots" of 20 acres each.

"No one bought 20 acre parcels back in those days," said Meredith.

As such, it was difficult for the appraisers on both sides to find similar properties to base their valuations.

In the end, the judge said the market value was comparable to the option on the 161.5-acre Nicklaus North lands. The price to exercise the Nicklaus North option in the early '90s was $1.9 million, or $11, 900 per acre.

The judge adjusted the value to add more to the prime waterfront Rainbow lands and arrived at a $12,000 per acre figure, or $1.3 million.

The interest from that $1.3 million over the past 23 years was not factored into the recent judgment.

It is expected the family will now seek to recover that interest.

Their lawyer, George Macintosh, is the same lawyer who won the 2004 legal battle against the municipality over the bylaws drafted for the development of Nita Lake Lodge.

No one was available for comment at the municipality this week. A prepared statement revealed that the municipality is now conducting a legal review of the judgment and a report will be brought before council in the coming weeks.

Meredith supports a municipal appeal of the judgment.

"I think the proper process occurred," he said.

"(The judgment) has the incredible benefit of hindsight."