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By Loreth Beswetherick A land exchange deal that would save an environmentally-sensitive stand of alluvial spruce across from the Whistler Health Care Centre is not high on the province’s priority list. In the summer of 1998 council reached an agreement with the Park Georgia Group — developers of the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort, the Montebello condominiums and the future Hyatt Hotel — that would see a golf driving range and teaching facility planned for that area relocated to less environmentally-sensitive land next to the Chateau Whistler Golf Course. Park Georgia was given 18 months to find an alternate site and potentially hammer out a deal with Canadian Pacific Hotels. The developers would then dedicate the forested land back to the municipality in turn for a tax receipt to the tune of about $3 million. Park Georgia consultant Jim Moodie said a 5.5 hectare site next to the 6th hole on the Chateau course has been found. However, it is on Crown land and Park Georgia still needs to raise title and effect the land exchange. The trouble is getting the B.C. Assets and Lands Corporation to the table and time is running out if the 18-month time frame is to be met. Moodie said everyone is on side with the driving range proposal but BCAL has a lot on its plate. "We are having a bit of trouble on the administration side getting the provincial government people to become involved," said Moodie. "We have to get B.C. Assets and Lands to endorse the application and create title. They are very, very busy, it seems, so it has been difficult to try and meet with them to go through this. We just have to try and get them to move us up on their priority list." Moodie said he is optimistic a meeting can be arranged in the next couple of weeks. Once title is raised, the land must still be surveyed and registered. "Then we have to do the land exchange with the municipality," said Moodie. "There are a number of different options but this is the one we are pursuing as best we can with the municipality’s help." RMOW director of Parks and Recreation, Bill Barratt, said BCAL is currently understaffed and dealing with a heavy workload. "They are just saying to us this isn’t high on their priority list," said Barratt. He is working with Moodie and other key players to put together a proposal for BCAL that will outline the benefits of the driving range deal. Barratt said he thinks meeting the 18-month deadline, however, will be tough. "It’s in Park Georgia’s and our interest to move forward. It’s just a question of getting (BCAL) into a room and putting it out before them." Moodie said, depending on when you start counting, the 18-month time frame comes to a close around January next year. The complex set of bylaws approved by council in 1998 to preserve the spruce forest also included a 137-room increase for the nine-storey Hyatt. Work was due to start on the hotel this spring. Moodie said financing for the $100 million-plus project was, however, not wrapped up in time for a 1999 construction start. He said he is looking at a spring 2000 start now that all the permits are in place. "Now that side of the job is looked after we can deal with the financing side." Moodie said a financing package like this is obviously a challenge and project approval needs to be in the bag before the private sector can successfully be approached. He said Park Georgia was not concerned about the number of hotel rooms currently on the market. "Whistler is continuing to impress everybody. Whistler is doing very, very well. It would be a different story if we were talking about condominiums in Vancouver."

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