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No love for locals?

Lack of Function Junction improvements in budget a sore spot for businesses, residents



Business owners and residents alike are frustrated with a lack of improvements for Function Junction (FJ) in the recently released municipal budget.

"Myself, I was very disappointed to see that there isn't anything budgeted in the next five years for making Function safer for the users, and that to me is just shocking," said Harvey Lim, owner of Art Junction. "I just don't think they realize what an issue it is. They should, because it's not the first time we've brought it to their attention. I just don't understand how they work in the hall when safety isn't a priority."

The light industrial area has been bustling with increased activity in recent years, as more people live, work and shop in the neighbourhood.

"I see in the summer the girls with the four-pack strollers on Millar Creek Road, sharing a lane with oncoming traffic, you've got Bounce down here which services a lot of young folk, you've got the Awesome Arts Academy," Lim said. "You've got all these things that young people in general are using, and people trying to not use their cars to come down here and use the area, but there isn't any infrastructure in place to be able to do this."

The neighbourhood doesn't need all the "bells and whistles" of Whistler Village, "but safety is definitely an issue that I'd like to see looked at, because heaven forbid if there is an accident," Lim said. "You can see it, it nearly happens every day down here."

The issue was first raised in 2013, when a group of concerned locals took it upon themselves to draft a pedestrian walkway strategy.

Chantelle Dean, whose family owns the Whistler Brewing Company (WBC), was part of that initial push.

"I understand the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) perspective, that FJ was never intended to be servicing locals to the extent that it's growing into," Dean said, noting that her views do not necessarily represent those of WBC. "Maybe it didn't get traction at the time perhaps for different priorities, different budget line items that needed to be addressed."

But Dean believes the time has come.

"I think that we've hit a pivotal point and a bit of a tipping point, that if we don't start looking at a growth strategy, not only for FJ but I believe Whistler as a whole, we could run into some bigger issues down the line," she said.

And with a new gas station in the planning stages for Function and more housing planned across the street in Cheakamus Crossing, the area is only going to get busier.

David Macphail has lived in Cheakamus since 2014, and likes to walk to Function to make use of the various services — but the lack of sidewalks and access for pedestrians is concerning, he said.

"What we're seeing there is a proliferation of locally owned businesses which used to be in the village but can no longer afford to be there, and they're not catering to the tourists," he said. "They're trying to provide services and especially a social environment for people who live in Cheakamus and Function."

Macphail said he bought his wife an e-bike last spring, and the couple rarely uses their car, but feels the RMOW isn't making things any easier on them.

"We're kind of living the lifestyle that they said (they wanted us to) — sustainable, walk to your locations, shop locally, support local businesses — what could possibly be wrong with that? Except right now it's not safe," he said, adding that he'd like the RMOW to work with residents and businesses on this.

The place to start, Macphail said, would be ensuring people can get safely from the Valley Trail in Cheakamus into FJ, and taking back the municipal right-of-way, which is often lined with parked cars.

"We're not talking millions of dollars," he said. "I don't think it's a huge thing."

The issue was raised again at a recent Whistler Chamber lunch in Function, attended by Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Improvements to the neighbourhood have been bounced on and off municipal work plans for some time, the mayor said.

"FJ does need some master planning. It's been many years since that was done, and it's kind of sprung up and changed uses over the course of time in the absence of a comprehensive plan," she said, noting that planning for the area is now linked to longer-term planning in the Nesters Crossing and Mons areas.

"It obviously requires more time and attention and we simply haven't had that in recent years because we've been going flat out with other things," Wilhelm-Morden said.

And installing sidewalks is not as simple as it sounds, she added.

"In the case of FJ, they've got a ditch system for storage of snow, and what do you do? Do you start trucking snow out because you've filled in the ditches for sidewalks? And who bears the cost of trucking snow out if that is the way to go?" Wilhelm-Morden said. "I am disappointed that there is not anything in the very short term that the municipality has planned for, and since the meeting (on March 9) I will be speaking with senior staff about the short-term concerns."

Developer Steve Bayly was also heavily involved in the 2013 pedestrian strategy, and was in attendance for the meeting with the mayor.

"Staff doesn't seem to have much love for this," he said. "Credit to (Wilhelm-Morden), she showed up there and listened, and maybe she's gone away to add it in this year's budget. I hope so."

At the March 21 council meeting, Wilhelm-Morden said she has talked to Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey about two projects for FJ — a sidewalk initiative and a sub-area planning project that includes FJ, Nesters and Mons — both tentatively scheduled for next year.

Furey noted that no set amount of money has been identified, but the RMOW should start preparing something for next year's five-year financial plan.