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Strata group angered by municipal demands

Lagoons president speaks out about "community benefit" request by official

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A Whistler Village strata group is outraged that the municipality asked for a "community benefit" in return for using a park to access a building where emergency sewer repairs needed to be done.

"I was shocked and disgusted," said Christina Halldorson, strata president for The Lagoons at Stony Creek, a complex opposite marketplace on Northlands Boulevard.

"Is this how the RMOW wants to treat its neighbours? Is this what we do to each other? This was an emergency situation."

Halldorson first learned of the "community benefit" idea in an Oct. 6th discussion between her contractor, Paul O’Mara, and Dave Patterson, the municipality’s manager of park operations.

In a letter on the subject that afternoon Patterson stated: "Due to the availability of access through the Lagoons and your request to access through the park I feel that there should be a community benefit to offset the disruption of park use now and in the spring/summer of 2006 while the landscaping is growing back."

Halldorson said initially the municipality was asking for $10,000 but by the afternoon of Oct. 6th that figure had dropped to $5,000 or $6,000.

The money was to be used to upgrade an area of West Park, which also borders Northlands Boulevard, near the Reading Chair.

"The Parks department has problems with the north side of the berm where the story telling chair is located," states the letter by Patterson. "We propose that the plants on the bank be removed and that a low retaining wall be constructed at the top of the bank to hold back the grass area.

"Then the planting area be heavily replanted with ferns that are more suitable for low light areas. This area presently looks okay but only due to labour intensive maintenance.

"The end effect will be of a natural setting with much less cost to maintain.

"The community benefit is the reduced costs to maintain this area over the long term."

Municipality spokeswoman Diana Waltmann said the $10,000 figure was an estimate by Patterson on how much it would cost to upgrade vegetation before he had had a chance to speak with experts on the subject.

After Patterson checked with a horticulturist the figure dropped to the lower amount.

The municipality saw the money as a type of fee for use of the park.

"The municipality charges for access and we do that for any exclusive use of park," said Waltmann.

As for using the term "community benefit" to describe the transaction Waltmann said: "In the sense that it is a benefit to the community it is an appropriate term. In the sense of today’s meaning in development or planning terms it was perhaps not an appropriate term."

Halldorson refused to pay the "community benefit". Not only was she opposed to the idea of it she said she knew the other strata council members would never agree to it.

"(The strata) would have been furious," she said.

Halldorson said the strata had asked to go through West Park to do the $300,000 worth of emergency repair work because it would have been cheaper and less disruptive to owners. The plan was to take small motorized machinery up the paving-stone path, across a planted flower bed and into the complex to dig.

"I feel like it’s Parks that is in charge. Parks is the mayor now," said Halldorson. "How can you block anyone’s progress in this manner or take advantage of owners who are already burdened with a time constraint and a catastrophic sewer failure and a large financial burden and then ask them to give up even more money just because you think you might get it?"

After Halldorson refused to pay the fee Patterson withdrew it and everyone got to work on a licence that would allow the work to go ahead through the park. As part of the agreement the strata had always agreed to pay a $10,000 bond and have adequate insurance.

Waltmann said the municipality has never had a request for access to one of its parks for this type of work.

"We don’t normally have people asking for access through a park," she said, adding that it is standard practice to draw up a licence and seek proper insurance.

"We absolutely have to have a licence agreement in place with an indemnification clause," said Waltmann.

However, the strata considered the licence document too onerous as it contained a clause which prevented the strata from suing the RMOW should the need arise.

So with winter fast approaching the strata abandoned the idea of going through West Park.

In the end contractors went through the Stoney Creek complex, rather than the park to do the repair work. That route cost several thousand dollars more than going through the park. The work is scheduled to be completed Dec.15.

Halldorson has nothing but praise for the municipality’s plumbing and permits sections, which she said, went out of their way to get everything in order so the emergency repairs could get under way. But she feels compelled to speak out against the idea of the municipality asking for a "community benefit" for this type of repair work.

"It won’t help me anymore but maybe knowing this will help other people." said Halldorson.

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