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‘Rushed’ environmental plan raises concerns

Council delay third reading for PAN; mapping details need ironing out

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The devil is in the details.

That was the tune eight community members sang Monday night when they walked up to the podium to speak out against the municipality’s plan for environmental conservation in the valley: The Protected Areas Network Plan (PAN).

Chief among concerns were the plan’s maps. Several people said they are nervous that PAN does not protect certain plots of land, like an area in Alpine Meadows called “Section G” or the “G Spot.” Others said the approval process is too rushed.

“The details of this proposal and mapping cry out for more public consultation,” said one critic, Vancouver-based lawyer Robert Anderson, representing a Whistler client.

“It is true that the concept of PAN has been around for some time, but this particular proposal has been obviously rushed through, and the comments tonight from a variety of sources is evidence that it is simply not ready.”

Added developer Duane Jackson: “My first concern is the lack of public notification and public open houses since November 2007.”

“Since that time, the documents have changed, the structure has changed and the development permit areas have changed. A lot of us have not had time to consider what that really means…. I am not sure what the urgency is.”

PAN, which has been in the works for six years, dictates how different ecosystems can be developed in Whistler. For example, nothing can be built on wetlands, which fall under the highest level of protection.

Almost all speakers were realtors or residents of Alpine Meadows — who sported matching black and white “Save the G Spot” T-shirts.

During the meeting, municipal staff assured the G Spot crew that the Alpine Meadows land is not slated for development. The reason the land is marked “exempt” on PAN maps is because it has been designated as a potential spot for employee housing, under the land bank agreement.

Staff also acknowledged that the map details could use cleaning up. Heather Beresford, municipal manager of environmental stewardship, said since the PAN maps were made public this week, five new areas have been added.

“We have to keep in mind that these maps are tools and not the final word,” she said.

She added that the reason for the environmental plan’s urgent time line is because the current council’s term ends this month.

“Staff has a commitment to the current council on this. We, of course, are at the last hour, and it has been a very complex process and it has taken a long time. We have done our best to get us here before the election,” said Beresford.

Mayor Ken Melamed also said the only reason PAN is being so-called “rushed” is because it has taken so long to prepare the 600 page document.

“It is not about rushing. It is about doing things in the proper time when they are ready,” said Melamed.

“Now, it is ready.”

Because there was opposition to the plan council, as per its policy, did not consider third reading Monday. It will likely come back to council for third reading on Nov. 17.

Not everyone was against giving third reading to the environmental plan. Biologist Bob Brett and AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) representative Brad Kasselman both spoke to the plan’s merits.

“This is state-of-the-art and as best as we could do on applying conservation biology principles to the local planning level, which has not been done before,” said Brett, who helped develop the plan.

“The people that sat around the table argued a lot about the specifics of this, but the overall point is to have a broad based outline that decisions could be made on.”

PAN, which received first reading in 2005, has also received input from a public steering committee, two public open houses, a peer review, and a professor from Simon Fraser University, among others.

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