By Alison Taylor
First Nations have just become the biggest potential land developers in Whistler.
Hailed as a historic occasion Monday night, council sealed a multi-million dollar deal with Squamish and Lil’wat Nations to transfer development rights on their new legacy lands in Whistler.
Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob surveyed the room as he addressed council at the meeting.
“A new day is dawning for our people,” said the charismatic chief.
“We will be sustainable within our traditional lands again.”
No deal has ever been negotiated like this before in the province.
After administrator Bill Barratt presented the complexities of the deal to council, Mayor Ken Melamed congratulated him on all the hard work in seeing a resolution to the file, which has been negotiated behind closed doors for the past three years.
“It’s going to have significant impacts for all of us into the future,” said the mayor, who offered his whole-hearted support for the deal.
Any future development by First Nations, however, will be within Whistler’s official planning documents, like the Whistler2020 plan. And the new development rights handed over this week are within Whistler’s growth cap.
First Nations have handpicked eight sites within the resort municipality for their 300 acre legacy lands, promised to them in 2002 by the provincial government during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid phase.
The Crown land sites lie from one end of the valley to the other.
Council has transferred 224 bed units to First Nations. Those will be added to the 228 bed units previously held by the province and given to the nations.
The value of that transfer cannot be understated. Bed units are the tools that create development potential in Whistler.
With 452 bed units First Nations have the potential to build 75 single-family homes.
Only one of the eight legacy lands sites has been designated residential. Those are the Alpine North lands, above Rainbow. The Squamish and Lil’wat have asked council to consider a rezoning proposal by June 2008 for those lands. (See related story page 15.)
Their five-acre site, south of the entrance to Function Junction, is designated industrial. It does not need bed units to be developed.
The rest of the sites have rural resource designation, and therefore no development rights.
As part of the package, Whistler will see resolution to several outstanding issues with the province, not the least of which is its large boundary expansion and the transfer of valuable day skier parking lots to municipal hands. (See related story page 13.)