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Should Whistler be 'heating the outdoors?'

Letter questions wasteful energy practices


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Can Whistler have its cake and eat it too?

That is to ask, should a world-renowned outdoor paradise be so flippant about businesses trying to "heat the outdoors?"

The question was posed in a recent letter to mayor and council.

"Walking through the Village this morning I was surprised and very disappointed to see at least 90 per cent of retail businesses had their doors wide open," wrote Anne Townley, in the letter.

"It was 6 C outside and the heat was pouring out the doors. I spoke with one manager from a chain store and was told that head office insists on the open door policy in order for the store to appear welcoming."

Townley went on to ask if council could mandate that businesses close their doors when using heat or air conditioning and stop the use of patio heaters.

"These two actions would demonstrate that Whistler is serious about environmental stewardship and encourage the business community to be creative in welcoming their customers in an environmentally friendly manner," she wrote.

In a follow-up email, Townley said the common reason given by businesses is that they want customers to know they're open, but "it seems a 'Welcome, come in, but please close the door to save energy' would go over well too," she said.

There are lots of small energy-saving approaches not being done in Whistler, Townley noted, like lights being left on all night long in commercial and residential complexes.

"It's all the little things that add up that could be changed and in doing so educate people about efficient use of energy," she wrote.

"No sense protesting the big projects like Site C dam if you leave lights on and doors open."

Townley raises a point that has been discussed for many, many years, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"It's been on our radar for quite some time," she said, noting that the 2011 Official Community Plan (OCP) — currently in limbo after being struck down by the BC Supreme Court in 2014 — contains a policy that encourages less heating of outdoor areas.

"But it's simply a policy — we don't have plans for new regulations currently," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"We're really just trying to convince people about the right thing to do."

The 2016 Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) does include a recommendation to reduce direct heating of outdoor areas, "so between the 2011 OCP and the 2016 CECAP, there may be enough momentum to consider doing something in the order of regulations," she added.

Wilhelm-Morden said previous councils might have shied away from regulating patio heaters because they didn't want to lose the ambiance and atmosphere that they bring to the village.

"Now, I don't understand the reason for keeping shop doors open. I really don't get that one," she said.

During a noon-hour walk through Whistler Village on Tuesday, Dec. 13 — in a face-numbing -11 C — Pique counted 10 doors propped open.

Ruby Gibbs of Rocks and Gems said the store simply attracts more visitors when the doors are open.

"We always have them open, because we have the air curtains as well so that people can come into the warmth," she said.

The "climate control" air curtain blows air straight down, keeping warm air in and cold air out.

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce doesn't have a policy around keeping doors open, but it could be something to look at, said past-chair Grant Cousar.

"I'd probably want to have a little bit more stakeholder engagement before we started endorsing that we're going to come up with a policy," he said.

Whistler Blackcomb, which operates multiple stores across the resort, declined to comment.

When the letter came up for discussion at the Dec. 6 council meeting, Coun. Sue Maxwell noted an across-the-board bylaw might be best.

"I don't know where we're at on that specific action, but I know in 2017 we're looking at a plan to implement many aspects of the (CECAP) work, and if council desire we can move that one up further on the list to encourage businesses to close their doors," said CAO Mike Furey.

"Not sure what kind of legal restrictions there would be if it's someone's property and they decide to leave it open, but we can look into that."

Coun. Andrée Janyk said she'd rather get compliance through voluntary agreement than enforcement.

"I think people are understanding, we just need to increase that message," she said.

Maxwell noted in some cases the impact from open doors may not necessarily be the biggest, "but I think if we're going to look at some of the actions for climate change it might be lots of little actions that are all reducing the amount of energy," she said, adding that the perception of many visitors, when they see doors open in the dead of winter, is that Whistler doesn't care about climate change.

"I think there is also value in showing that this is a concern that we have and that we are all as a community taking steps to address it," she said.

"Because I think sometimes people will use it as an excuse not to do anything... I think there is value in it from an example perspective."