Village forest could be saved in Park Georgia deal New Lost Lake location possible for controversial driving range By Andy Stonehouse Parties involved in developing one of Whistler Village's last remaining hotel and recreation properties have struck a compromise to help preserve a controversial wetland forest, but the deal is far from finalized. Whistler councillors said they are generally pleased with a plan developed by the municipality and developer Park Georgia, which is working with Hyatt to build a hotel at the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort. Under the terms of the new deal, Park Georgia would agree not to clearcut a stand of alluvial spruce forest kitty-corner from the Whistler Health Care Centre if the company is instead able to find a new location for a golf driving range near the Chateau Whistler golf course at Lost Lake. The spruce forest area, which was approved in 1990 as a site for a driving range and practice facility to be associated with the racquet and golf resort, has attracted interest in recent years for its environmental values. According to Mike Purcell, acting planning director, Park Georgia will work with the Chateau Whistler Resort to build a driving range in a less environmentally sensitive area near the existing Chateau course. A covenant would be established to protect the existing forest stand, and Park Georgia would have 18 months to arrange for a land exchange to work out the project with C.P. Hotels. If successful, the company would have the right to dedicate the lands back to the RMOW in exchange for a tax receipt (to the tune of approximately $3 million). The entire transaction comes as part of a bigger deal granting the developer additional space — an additional 137 bed units in the hotel — and looser height restrictions for the hotel project, as well as cancelling the requirements to build more tennis courts. While several councillors said they were willing to bite their tongues and accept the compromise position in order to finish the project and save the trees, Councillor Ken Melamed said he believes a better deal could still be struck. Melamed said he is particularly discouraged by the final wording of the agreement, which allows Park Georgia to still cut the trees if the municipality allows any other developer to build a driving range within a five kilometre radius of Park Georgia’s property. "I commend staff, council and the developer for striking what appears to be a victory for the protection of the spruce forest," he said. "But I'm at a tug of war with myself. I can be satisfied with nothing less than seeing it completely protected... and I can't back down from that." Melamed said that given the concessions granted to Park Georgia — including market bed units and rezoning — he feels it would be more appropriate for the builder to simply deed the forest land back to the community. "I still don't think that a development of this size and at this location is appropriate... or to add this many bed units and a high density node so far north, when the village is so overbuilt for commercial and lodging already." Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she did not believe it was fair for Melamed to ask the developer to walk away from lands it has long been permitted to develop, adding that she believes the new deal is the best solution possible. "We can't fight the same battle that was fought 10 years ago," she said. "Given that, I think this is a win-win situation. We saved the spruce forest, and the developer gets a hotel that works better." Mayor Hugh O'Reilly agreed, saying he felt the driving range is still a much-needed development within the greater village area and hoping a new site can be found near Lost Lake. Jim Moodie, a consultant working on behalf of Park Georgia, said the company is willing to live with the new deal — although he hopes that an alternate forest site picked for the driving range will not bring a new round of environmental concerns. "Certainly, Park Georgia's not happy about it, but if this is an amenable solution to get on with the hotel and create a driving range at another location, we're willing to put in our best efforts," he said. Moodie also insists that the deal has not been finalized and suggests locals not jump the gun on declaring an environmental victory. Murray Blair, director of golf for the Chateau Whistler Resort, said that a number of potential driving range sites near the existing course have been selected, but nothing has been finalized. "We'd like it to be closer than further from the clubhouse, but it will probably be up higher in the golf course area," Blair said. "In the areas we've looked at, there are very few trees to be removed, and it's certainly not a wetlands area." Blair said that the lack of a driving range associated with the Chateau course is his guests' number one complaint. As part of the bigger agreement with the municipality, Park Georgia has changed the layout of its hotel project and will be allowed to construct a building nine stories high, although the bottom storey will be at grade and will give the building the look of an eight-storey structure. The company will build an 18,000 square foot destination spa facility. Park Georgia will also make a $300,000 cash-in-lieu payment, rather than building an additional five tennis courts at the site. Forty-nine units could also be discharged from the hotel's rental pool and used as high-end year-round accommodations. Purcell said the local advisory planning commission generally supports the development, provided the driving range isn't actually built and the $300,000 is used to enhance or cover some of the existing courts, or used to help establish more public courts.