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Municipality forced to rewrite Nita Lake Lodge development bylaws



Project will go back to step one in approval process

The municipality is back at the drawing board rewriting the bylaws for the Nita Lake Lodge development after a community member threatened legal action against the town.

The complaint from a property owner close to the proposed development, focused on the $1million donation to health care in Whistler, which is part of the multi-faceted land deal. The donation is one of many community amenities in the proposed development, which includes an 80-room lodge, a new train station and 14 large single-family homes in Creekside.

Though no writ has been filed for a lawsuit, the municipality received a letter threatening legal action.

"Their suggestion is council ought not to be considering that (health care donation) in the context of a rezoning application," said Bob MacPherson, acting general manager, planning and development for the municipality.

He went on to explain that the complaint was based on the fact that there’s no visible connection between the land deal and this particular community benefit.

"When you start getting further removed from the impact of the development itself, that’s when you raise questions. We don’t know how this one would turn out if we were to end up in court on it. We really don’t know. I guess we’re taking a cautionary approach on it."

As such, that $1million donation to health care – $585,000 for updated radiological equipment at the Health Care Centre and $500,000 to the Community Foundation of Whistler to establish a Community Health Fund – will not be considered by the municipality.

"It will not be considered in the bylaw and will not be considered by council, so this is off the table with respect to any municipal consideration," said MacPherson.

When asked if council would be seeking another donation or community benefit to replace the million-dollar donation, MacPherson said: "Well, that’s under discussion."

The complex Nita Lake Lodge deal, which involves various tracts of lands and the transference of bed units, has been in negotiations for more than two years.

It has gone through a number of different phases throughout its development history. At one point a private medical facility was planned next to the lodge. At another time the developers were asked to consider a sizable cash donation, about $6.5 million, to go towards community projects like the flagging Library/Museum Capital Campaign in exchange for rezoning.

The proposal has changed over time as the developers tried to understand what the community was looking for in the project.

Last month they thought they had figured it out when council approved the bylaws as far as third reading, the step before they are adopted. In addition to the upscale lodge, houses and train station, the developers also promised to dedicate 25 acres of the sensitive Alpha Creek wetlands for preservation, build a sizeable chunk of employee housing, and donate money to trail and environmental enhancement, as well as the $1million contribution to health care.

The money to health care was only part of the deal because the initial plans for Nita Lake Lodge development included a private surgical facility. When that was dropped from the proposal, the developers promised to make a monetary donation to the health care system.

"We thought that seemed reasonable and fair," said MacPherson.

"This is the way many local governments in B.C. do business, accepting community benefits when they are offered. We thought this was a benefit that the community would be very happy to accept and we thought that it was an appropriate one. Now we have somebody from the community challenging us accepting this benefit on the community’s behalf."

Municipal staff is currently rewriting the bylaws for the project. This time around the bylaws will include a description of all the amenities that will be part of the project.

The rewritten bylaws will go before council for first and second reading, after which a public hearing will be scheduled.

At the original public hearing at the end of April more than 30 citizens spoke up about the development. Most supported the proposal and many commented on the extensive community benefits from the project. A handful of people, particularly Creekside residents, were concerned about the size and scale of the development.

The proposal received the support of four of five council members eligible to vote on it at third reading. Councillor Ken Melamed opposed the project. Councillor Gordon McKeever and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly had to declare conflicts of interest and did not participate in the vote.

Nita Lake Lodge developer John Haibeck would not elaborate on the recent setback.

"We fully support the decision of the municipality," he said.

There is no scheduled date on when the new bylaws will go before council.