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Residents weigh in on Whistler's 'guiding vision'

Community Vision Forum offers public chance to guide direction of Whistler's OCP update

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Whistlerites came out in full force this week to help guide local officials as they work on the long-awaited update to Whistler's Official Community Plan (OCP).

The Whistler Conference Centre foyer was packed on Monday, March 5 for the Community Vision Forum, the first of two public events the municipality will use to guide it towards the hopeful adoption of the resort's overarching planning document.

The intent of the night was to revisit Whistler's "guiding vision," offering attendees a number of ways to give feedback on the priorities they would like to see included in Whistler's revamped OCP.

The proceedings began with a series of speakers representing a variety of community interests and sectors, each of which painted a picture of Whistler's past and current realities.

Whistler Community Services Society director Cheryl Skribe spoke of the recent "urbanization" of Whistler, and the increasing pressures placed on the community as it continues to grow. She stressed the importance of balancing the resort's differing agendas — the locals', the tourists' and the seasonal workers'.

"If we're giving more attention to one over the other... then that's going to start to take away from one of the other agendas," she said. "As the locals, we're at the heart of all of this."

Striking the appropriate balance between Whistler's competing interests was a constant theme throughout the evening.

"A lot of the solutions we're looking at now are a symptom of a lack of a balanced approach," said attendee Brent Harley, speaking at the Growth Management roundtable. "It's all kind of piecemeal."

Along with an online poll, attendees could answer in real time from their Smartphones, the assembled crowd had the option to join roundtable discussions with fellow residents and an RMOW staff member. Each table focused on a different topic: Growth Management; Economic Viability; Housing, Climate Action and Transportation; Natural Environment; Recreation and Leisure; Quality of Life; and Open Space (for other community topics).

The night was light on specific policy recommendations, instead focusing on the bird's eye view of Whistler's long-term future. Much of the roundtable discussions centred on the language included in the draft OCP's Shared Vision for each topic, with attendees debating whether the content accurately reflected Whistler's current reality and its ideal future.

"This is like a storybook," said attendee Nicola Bentley in reference to the OCP's stated vision for managing growth. "We are experiencing a tidal wave of growth, and this doesn't address that. Put on some glasses and rewrite this, because it's a bit fairy-tale like."

Preserving Whistler's natural environment was another top priority at the public forum. In her presentation, Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment director Claire Ruddy reminded the audience that being strong stewards of our natural surroundings has to start locally.

Attendee Richard Prokopanko agreed that Whistlerites "have to maintain the beauty and nature of this place," and believes utilizing new technologies in that effort would go a long way.

In December, councillors weighed a proposal to embed Whistler2020, the resort's guiding sustainability document, into the updated OCP. The council table was divided on the issue, with officials ultimately voting to incorporate elements of the plan into the OCP, effectively removing redundancies between the two foundational documents.

The most recent version of Whistler's OCP was originally adopted by council in May 2013. The plan hit a roadblock the following spring, however, when the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the province, which is required to sign off on the OCP, had not fulfilled its duty to adequately consult with the local Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations. That forced the RMOW to revert back to its earlier 1993 OCP.

Given that negotiations with the Lil'wat and Squamish are ongoing, there is little known about what specific priorities the Nations would like to see included in the plan.

"I don't really want to talk about those in a public forum at this point because the discussions are very sensitive," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Indigenous leaders' main point of contention during the last round of negotiations was the OCP's inclusion of a hard cap on future development, which, the Nations claimed, would infringe on their Aboriginal land title rights by preventing them from pursuing development opportunities on Crown land within municipal boundaries.

The public will have another chance to give input on the OCP at a community forum set for sometime in early May. Residents have a number of ways to engage in the OCP process until June, including through a questionnaire, available for download at whistler.ca/myfuturewhistler.

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