Council had its first look inside the Audain Art Museum on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and even without any art on the walls the experience was enough to leave Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at a loss for words.
"The size is just unbelievable... and it's all going to be full of art," she said after the walk-through, which was timed before council's trip to Aspen next week.
"Whistler does not have a clue what this is going to do for our town. I'm at a loss for words."
But it's not just the sheer size of the $35-million museum, set to open early next year, which prompted the reaction.
True to his vision, philanthropist Michael Audain has created a feeling of being aloft in the forest when walking through his facility. The museum is set up high and among the trees on Blackcomb Way in the middle of the day lots.
"I think they only took down one tree in the construction of the building," added the mayor.
The walk-through was planned before council's scheduled fact-finding mission to Colorado. In addition to visiting the Vail airport and learning about sustainability and marketing efforts in Breckenridge, council will also visit the Aspen Art Museum on its trip.
Before seeing that facility, it was important to understand what Whistler's museum will be like in years to come, though the mayor noted the Aspen museum does not have a permanent collection, rather hosting visiting exhibits. The Audain Art Museum will house Audain's private collection to give a visual history of British Columbia's art.
"It was really important for council to get a real sense of the scope and the scale of this museum," said the mayor.
Council and senior staff will be in Colorado from Oct. 12 to 16.
The last time a Whistler municipal delegation visited was the late '90s.
"This trip is overdue," said the mayor.
Ten-year Tax exemption for SLRD
Whistler is ushering in a "new relationship" with its neighbouring First Nations and to pave the way forward, the municipality has given a 10-year property tax exemption to the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
Council gave the first three readings of the permissive tax exemption bylaw at Tuesday's regular meeting, Oct.6.
"We actually made that decision much earlier this year when we started meeting with First Nations and we wanted to start off our discussions and enter into a new relationship with our First Nations friends to the north and the south by reaching out to them and providing a 10-year tax exemption for the SLCC," explained Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden after the meeting.
The relationship between the RMOW and First Nations was strained following the passing of Whistler's contentious Official Community Plan (OCP). In 2013 Squamish and Lil'wat Nations challenged the plan in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. A judge ruled in favour of the First Nations, saying the B.C. government, which approved Whistler's plan, did not fulfill its consultation duty with the nations, and ultimately quashed the OCP.
That decision left Whistler in the lurch, effectively without an updated OCP and somewhat at an impasse with the First Nations, who questioned parts of it, specifically around Whistler's building cap.
Since then, Whistler has been quietly navigating its way with the Squamish and Lil'wat governments.
Tuesday's tax exemption bylaw is the first tangible sign of progress between the parties.
Though the municipality has given the SLCC a tax exemption every year since 2005, it was always done on an annual basis, much like the exemptions for other charitable and not-for-profit organizations.
"We recognize that that gave them some short-, medium- and longer-term planning issues, and so we thought it would be very much an expression of good faith in entering into our new relationship by granting a 10-year tax exemption," added the mayor.
As the property has been exempt since its construction, the decision will not reduce existing municipal tax revenue.
Public hearing to be called on shipping container ban
The municipality is not just banning shipping containers in residential neighbourhoods with a new bylaw in the works; it will now require all shipping containers in other zones to have vents.
This is a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of explosion by allowing the release of vapours through the vents.
"The vents are simple, very easy to install," said senior planner Jake Belobaba during the council meeting on Oct. 6.
The bylaw, which received first and second reading at Tuesday's meeting, also allows temporary use of containers in residential zones for specific purposes — construction, moving or special events.
In some cases, such as moving, there will be a 14-day timeframe for the container on site.
Council will also be enforcing its new bylaw. To date, staff has identified a number of containers in violation of existing zoning or health and safety rules.
Councillor Jen Ford was the only member of council who did not support the move.
"I am still opposed to this sort of bylaw," she said, adding that the units are secure storage. "They can be hidden. They can be made to look better."
The bylaw will be considered at an upcoming public hearing where members of the public can voice their opinion.
Council approves quarterly financials
Municipal staff delivered its quarterly snapshot of the financial health of the resort municipality this week at the Oct.6 council meeting.
Director of finance Ken Roggeman said the financials appear to be on track for the second quarter, until June 30, 2015. He said he had no real concerns but there were a few things of note in the quarterly report.
On the revenue side, some areas were above budget such as parking revenues and building permit fees. Building permit fees were budgeted at $686,000 for the year; those revenues are now more than $1.1 million.
That, said Roggeman, appears to show confidence in the market. "The amount of activity in the building industry here... appears to be strong," he added.
Parking revenues are up $75,000 and hotel tax is also higher than budgeted, a reflection of how busy the resort has been in that time period.
There will be also pressures on the municipal budget next year, said Roggeman, noting the recent agreement with the firefighters union for wage increases in the coming years. The eight-year agreement, which goes from 2012 to 2019, with a 2.5 per cent increase each year, adds another $55,000 cost to the budget every year.
Bear Group to be an official council committee
The Whistler Bear Working Group (WBWG) is now a Select Committee of Council, with the mayor and council representative taking over as the official voice of the group.
This change is designed to provide more opportunity for municipal oversight, adherence to the municipal communications protocol and formalize a working group that has been around in Whistler for almost 20 years, committed in its efforts to reduce human/bear conflicts.
To date, it has had no formal recognition or accountability to council or the public.
The members of the WBWG are unanimous in support of the change. The group will now be known as the Whistler Bear Advisory Committee.
Councillor Jack Crompton asked Heather Beresford, environmental stewardship manager, if the group had been looking at diversionary feeding this fall — leaving food for the bears because of the low berry crop.
It's a difficult subject, said Beresford, that comes up every so often, particularly in the years where the bears are struggling. Among other things, feeding wildlife is against the Wildlife Act, she said.
"No, we have not seriously considered taking that action this fall," she added.
Council embeds GHG reductions into new transportation group
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been embedded into the Terms of Reference in the newly resurrected Transportation Advisory Group (TAG)
The move to add the GHG goals was broached by Councillor Sue Maxwell and quickly supported by the mayor at the Oct.6 council meeting.
Wilhelm-Morden also asked that the mayor specifically sit on the group as well as two members of council.
"I'm looking forward to the resurrection of this group," said the mayor, adding that the first TAG report was a milestone in helping set out Whistler's transportation needs.
"This second group may well have the same kind of impact, not just on Whistler but on the corridor," she added.
Water use up this year
Whistler could see a 10 per cent increase in water use in 2015 by years' end, driving home the importance of its water conservation and supply plan.
"We've be looking at quite a big increase in water use this year," said Michael Day, utilities group manager, who gave council an update on the water plan Oct.6.
While Whistler's overall water supply is expected to meet maximum demand, there is a gap in the core village area.
"It's that supply gap that we need to address," said Day.
There are several strategies in the plan to deal with that.
Whistler is looking at a once-through water use bylaw that would regulate the use of systems like that in Whistler. These systems are used to cool commercial freezers, and used in bars. The bylaw, which has yet to be developed, could look at banning any new systems in Whistler.
There are plans to build a booster station in Spring Creek, which would take excess water from Cheakamus Crossing and feed it to the core area. The RMOW is also continuing with a water leakage reduction program.
Function rail crossing to get upgrade
CN Rail and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will be upgrading the rail crossing on Alpha Lake Road in Function Junction.
The upgrades will include a much wider crossing surface and concrete on either side of the tracks, making it safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists at the crossing.
The work will take place on Wednesday Oct. 14 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the crossing between Lynham Road and Miller Creek road. There will be single-lane alternating traffic on a temporary gravel bypass road on that day.
CN will lead the work, with RMOW support.