News » Whistler

Size restriction bylaw draws crowd

Supporters want to protect unique village experience; detractors want London Drugs in town



In the eight years he has lived in Whistler, semi-retired project manager Bob Cessford has never been to a public open house.

But he felt compelled to go to one on Monday to "strongly oppose" council’s plans to limit the size of any new village businesses to 5,000 square feet.

He was not alone. In a rare show of public force, 57 people signed in at the open house. More attended but neglected to sign in.

"This is an issue that really just rings my bell for some reason," said Cessford, as he filled out his comment form. "If council believes in affordability and sustainability, as they tell us they do, they won’t pass this bylaw amendment."

The retail size bylaw would limit the size of any new stores in the village to 5,000 square feet, or roughly the size of The Grocery Store, while "grandfathering" or allowing the seven existing stores over that size to continue business as normal.

But ever since municipal staff introduced the bylaw last month, it has become inextricably linked in many people’s minds with plans from London Drugs to put a 17,000 square foot store in the village. Ultimately, it has boiled down to a question of affordability in the resort.

Cessford, like others at the open house, sees the size bylaw as an attempt to thwart efforts to bring London Drugs to Whistler.

But that’s not what this is really about said local coffee storeowner Chris Quinlan, who explained that London Drugs must go through a separate rezoning process irrespective of the retail size bylaw.

"This issue has been inappropriately married with the application for London Drugs," said Quinlan has he filled out a comment form in support of the proposed bylaw.

"The message we’re sending (with this size bylaw) is that Whistler is a unique mountain resort experience… You can fit in and if you don’t fit, then there’s no need to have a discussion."

Local businessman Bob Lorriman, former owner of Gone Bakery, echoed those comments, saying this bylaw is consistent with the work council has done to date. He points to retail restrictions in other places such as Granville Island, which promote small entrepreneurs and discourage formula stores or big box retail.

Canmore, Alberta, also has a similar restriction in the Bow Valley Trail district, which is the retail area aimed at tourists.

"This bylaw to me is black and white," said Lorriman. "It’s very consistent with all of the work we’ve done so far.

"It’s about the unique experience in the village and the vitality and energy we want to keep in the village."

If council passes the retail bylaw it won’t immediately put an end to London Drugs’ plans. But it will send a clear message – big box stores are not welcome in the village.

That’s got residents thinking about affordability, and whether or not they want a London Drugs in town.

Like Cessford, three-year Whistler resident Chris Hancock is against the retail size restriction bylaw.

Hancock and his wife bought a house here two years ago. Still, they travel to the city twice a month to do their shopping for staples. That would change if London Drugs was in Whistler.

"It’s about our chance of sustainability, our chance of having a family in this town," said Hancock.

He would prefer council put this decision to a community vote.

Lorriman said this passing this bylaw does not mean London Drugs cannot come to town. London Drugs has a separate rezoning process whereby council must decide whether or not to rezone a large underground space, zoned for indoor recreation, to commercial space.

"I’m not saying yea or nay to London Drugs," said Lorriman.

But he pointed to a passage in the Whistler Village Enhancement Strategy, which was developed by municipal staff and adopted by council in November 2001.

Among all the goals and objectives in that document, Lorriman highlighted one passage which states:

"Whistler Village is essentially a single product, where the actions or physical condition of any single constituent can significantly affect the overall experience and mutual success of all the constituents."

In other words, one store, particularly a large store, can have tremendous ramifications on the health and viability of other businesses.

Council will consider the comments from the public open house before moving the retail size bylaw forward.

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