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Nesters Crossing landscaping rules onerous, misleading, owners say

Council briefs: Prism rezoning moves ahead; Are Whistlerites paying too much for gas?

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While much of the discussion around a proposed rezoning for Nesters Crossing has centered on council's denial of additional employee housing units, the concern around the onerous landscaping requirements is another sticking point for tenants of the area.

In one of 12 requests in the original rezoning application, proponents asked the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to remove a requirement for 10 per cent of each parcel to be landscaped—a request that was ultimately denied.

But the RMOW is not taking into account all the buffer lands included on the properties, including a 10-metre railway buffer, in its calculation of the 10 per cent—meaning the landscaping requirements are actually far more onerous than 10 per cent, said developer Steve Bayly in a 26-page letter to council on the rezoning.

"New additional landscaping is being required based on the area of the already landscaped buffer, which is not the intention," Bayly wrote.

"The result of the combined areas yields landscaping which is 10 per cent of the parcel area plus the area already improved with the tree buffer, or, a net effective area of 17 per cent to 25 per cent of the parcel area for the lots on the north side of Nesters Road. This is not supported by current best practices and water consumption policies."

Further, proponents feel staff's responses to questions from councillors about the 10-per-cent requirement were misleading.

"Councillor (Steve) Anderson was asking the question, he wanted to know if the required 10 per cent of a parcel to be landscaped included the 10 metres (of railway buffer), which it does not, and he was told it does," said Michelle Charlton, another owner in the area. "Staff never offered clarity that for the parcels adjoining the railway line, effective total landscaping requirements vary from 17 per cent to 25 per cent."

In summarizing his lengthy letter, Bayly pointed out Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's consistent opposition to the development in Nesters Crossing since its inception 10 years ago.

"Despite Ms. Wilhelm-Morden's arguments, the clear majority of two different councils disagreed with her position and voted otherwise. Much more concerning is the collaboration of the CAO and planner with the personal perspective of their mayor," Bayly wrote.

"I believe staff have a duty, not just to their mayor, but a larger duty to the full council and the Whistler community. Staff reports, presentations and statements should be truthful, balanced and without bias."

The proponents ask that the current bylaw be passed, followed up as soon as possible (and at the RMOW's cost for staff time) with another bylaw that will add the requested employee housing units and amend the landscaping requirements from 10 to five per cent.

The bylaw will be brought back to council for third reading at an upcoming meeting.

PRISM LANDS REZONING MOVES AHEAD

A rezoning for the 44-hectare Prism lands at 1501 Alta Lake Rd. is moving forward after a public hearing on May 22.

The rezoning application would transfer 40 hectares of the land to the municipality, and allow the owners to subdivide the remaining land to create five residential estate lots.

"These (40 hectares) of lands that would be dedicated to the municipality are considered to have significant value for municipal purpose," said planner Melissa Laidlaw in a presentation to council on May 8.

"Those include parks, open space and trails, protection of environmentally sensitive lands and riparian areas, wildfire protection, securing a legal right of way for an existing municipal sewer line as well as an existing gas line, securing public access for existing trails on the lands, and securing land for a future Valley Trail connection to Function Junction from Alta Lake Road."

A large area of the parcel isn't suitable for development, but about 0.4 ha. of the land will be combined to an existing, adjacent 0.8-ha. parcel already owned by the RMOW, and designated for employee housing.

"I think this is a great benefit to the community for the park land, for resolving our right of way issues, (and) for making an employee housing parcel more viable," Coun. Sue Maxwell said on May 8.

"And so this does add a few more bed units, but I think this to me is a good example of what an extraordinary community benefit would be."

Though nobody spoke against the bylaw at the May 22 public hearing, two people spoke in favour.

"I'm fully in support of this modification, because I think it's a win-win, and the big thing is it does provide employee housing that we need very badly ... (but) as we increase the traffic along the West Side Road back to the highway, we do need sidewalks for the kids that are in the employee housing," said Danny Cox.

"So I hope this goes ahead, but hopefully as well we could do something about that."

The bylaw will come back for third reading at a future council meeting.

ARE WHISTLER DRIVERS PAYING TOO MUCH FOR GAS?

In a CTV news report on May 22, Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman railed against what she called ridiculous and unfair gas prices in Squamish.

Though Squamish gas stations aren't subject to Metro Vancouver's TransLink tax, which costs drivers an extra 11 cents a litre, the district has some of the highest after-tax gas prices in the province.

Heintzman told CTV she'll be taking the matter to the federal Competition Bureau.

Will Whistler follow suit?

"We've been discussing this for a long time, because we aren't subject to that gas tax, but we pay the same if not more than the gas prices in the Lower Mainland ... so the companies are pocketing that nice little bit of profit and (there's) not a lot we can do about it," Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said.

The RMOW hasn't discussed taking the fight to the competition bureau, but officials have talked about a gas tax as just one potential revenue generator for regional transit in the Sea to Sky corridor, the mayor said.

"Instead of the private gas companies taking that money, it should be funnelled into regional transit," she said.

The issue of regional transit and how to fund it will be discussed at a May 28 meeting of elected officials in the Sea to Sky.

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