Stakeholders in the Nesters Crossing industrial site north of Whistler Village are supportive of a zoning amendment bylaw for the area, but have some serious concerns about council's decision not to allow more employee housing units.
A May 8 public hearing for the rezoning—which proposes to amend the permitted uses of the CTI1 zone to add "freight forwarder and shipping agent" as additional permitted uses and removes the restriction that indoor storage be only for businesses—lasted more than an hour, with 13 people taking the podium to plead for the allowance of four housing units (rather than the currently permitted one) and less restrictive landscaping requirements.
Coastal Mountain Excavations, a tenant in Nesters Crossing, has been in business in Whistler for 41 years and has a workforce of 85—but only 20 currently live in Whistler, said president and director Matt Woods.
"We pay a good living wage here in Whistler. I've got a heavy-duty mechanic that's going to make northwards of $80,000 a year this year and he lives in a van. How does that make any sense?" Woods said.
"Today I've got eight employees who desperately need housing ... we want to help. I really think you guys should too."
Former municipal councillor Garry Watson called the housing refusal a travesty.
"It goes absolutely against everything we're trying to do to deal with the problems of employee housing," Watson said.
"The repeated reference to this area as heavy industrial by staff and the mayor I found totally misleading when the permitted uses include light industrial, service commercial and recreational uses, with a lit Valley Trail adjacent to every parcel."
The bylaw made its first appearance at the March 6 meeting, when council voted to proceed with review of the proposal after a lengthy discussion (the proponents originally requested 12 amendments, only six of which were supported by staff. In the end, council supported just two of the requested amendments).
When the bylaw resurfaced for first readings at the April 24 meeting, Councillor Steve Anderson proposed an amendment to allow the additional housing units.
The amendment was defeated in a 3-3 vote, with Councillors Jen Ford and Cathy Jewett also voting in favour.
"I commend Couns. Anderson, Jewett and Ford for their support, and I think it's now up to Couns. (Sue) Maxwell and (John) Grills to deal with the procedural aspect and to rethink their previous position," Watson said at the public hearing.
Council originally denied the request for additional housing for fear of creating a situation similar to Function Junction, where an area originally meant for industrial usage has morphed into a residential and commercial space over the years.
But staff's presentation of the Nesters Crossing zoning is misleading, argued longtime local developer and 2018 Citizen of the Year Steve Bayly, in a 26-page letter to council in regards to the amendment.
The presumption that the area is meant for heavy industrial use only is false, Bayly wrote.
"In fact, the name and the intent of the zone have always been for Community and Transportation Infrastructure," he wrote, adding that permitted uses include indoor and outdoor recreation, indoor storage for businesses and parks and playgrounds.
"These uses are not Heavy Industrial," Bayly wrote.
(Bayly's letter is included in the May 8 public hearing package, and can be read in full at www.whistler.ca/municipal-gov/council/meeting-agendas-and-minutes.)
Asked about the letter before the public hearing, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden declined to comment, but wanted to point out that the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing is targeting 1,000 beds over the next five years.
Lance Bright of Roland's Beer and Wine Store in Creekside, referencing Bayly's letter, drew similarities to an October planning report in regards to a Creekside rezoning—written by the same municipal planner—that also contained errors.
"What I've learned about him is you've got to check your facts, twice. It's unfortunate that we're put in that situation," Bright said.
"Maybe I'm wrong, but certainly, according to some of the opinions here, there's a lot of anger and frustration about this that I think is unnecessary, because perhaps if they had been more open about what's happening and more diligent about what exactly the requirements are, there wouldn't be any anger."
Asked how council can make informed decisions when the reports being presented to them—as in the case of Nesters Crossing and the Creekside rezoning—are sometimes not entirely accurate, municipal Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey said he couldn't comment on the public hearing, instead answering the question in a more general fashion.
"I think our reports to council ... always (have) a lot of due diligence put into them and a lot of work to ensure council is fully informed," Furey said.
Another proposed amendment denied in the original application was to remove the requirement for 10-per-cent of each of the five parcels to be landscaped (in addition to the landscaped berm already on site).
Several people spoke against the landscaping requirements at the public hearing.
"As we were developing our facility and as we were working through our operations there, we were finding a lot of the landscaping guidelines a little bit onerous," said Scott Pass, general manager of Whistler Connection Ltd.
"I personally find buses quite attractive ... I understand that maybe some people don't and we want to hide it from the highway, but just a little bit more flexibility as far as landscaping guidelines would really make life a lot easier for our operations."
The bylaw will come back to council for third reading at an upcoming council meeting.