Third reading of a bylaw which would change the minimum parcel size RR1 land could be subdivided into was put on hold following a public hearing Monday, but the threat of law suits hangs in the air. "This is a heavy handed and misguided attempt to address environmental degradation," Chuck Brook, a representative for the Decigon group which owns the Emerald Forest lands, told council. The Decigon group, like several other owners of large tracts of Whistler land zoned RR1, have owned their property for years. During that time the Decigon people have applied several times to rezone the land and been rejected. They have also had discussions with the municipality about turning over much of their land in exchange for the right to build on it. Those discussions have never reached a conclusion, but the Decigon people have always had the option of subdividing their land into 20-acre parcels. The land would remain zoned RR1 but subdivision would permit each of the partners to build their own house on a 20-acre parcel. However, the proposed bylaw, introduced at council’s Feb. 3 meeting, would change the minimum parcel size for subdivision from 20 acres to 100 acres. The rationale for the bylaw, according to municipal staff, is to prevent urban sprawl and to protect the environment. A report to council from municipal staff suggests there are 24 privately owned parcels of RR1 land that could currently be subdivided, potentially creating an additional 148 parcels. If the minimum parcel size is increased to 100 acres the potential additional parcels is reduced to 13. A grandfather clause would allow applications for subdivision submitted prior to the new bylaw — which the Decigon group did — to be considered for up to one year. However, Dan McIntyre, a lawyer for the Decigon group, told council, "I don’t think grandfathering is fair. My clients would have subdivided already if they hadn’t bowed to the wishes of previous councils. "I don’t think it’s fair that people who tried to do what Whistler wanted have to spend money on lawyers to get it done." McIntyre asked that his clients be allowed to continue to talk to municipal staff without the one-year time limit. McIntyre said the Decigon people have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning schemes, at the request of the municipality, over the years. In the fall of 1995 Decigon formally applied to create a six-lot subdivision, but were asked by municipal staff not to proceed. McIntyre also represented another land owner who had similarly applied for subdivision but was asked by staff not to proceed and had agreed. "This is a usage issue, not a parcel-size issue," Glen Houghton, one of the Decigon group, told council. "The municipality should negotiate use with the owners." Max Gotz, president of AWARE, was the only speaker in favour of the bylaw. "I don’t think RR1 will lose value and I believe the proposal is a responsible step on behalf of the resort," Gotz said. Larry Houghton, another of the Decigon owners, told council he applauded AWARE’s position in the community and that the environment is important, "but this bylaw is not moving the property into the protection of the RMOW. The way to bring the land into protection is for the RMOW to talk with the owners, as we have tried to do. "This bylaw is still going to leave the land privately owned. It’s not meeting the objective of making the land public green space." As is its policy, council did not give third reading to the bylaw because there was opposition expressed at the public hearing. However, it could be back for third reading at the next council meeting, March 3.