Last week in this space we covered some of the history and the questions about Lots 1 and 9 vis-a-vis the decision to develop the space for a medals plaza for the Olympics and Paralympics. This week, we look at how the municipality came to the decision to develop the site.
As the chainsaws come out and the bulldozers move in to clear Lots 1 and 9, probably in the next few days, Whistler will make national headlines once again. Television cameras will record images of trees dropping and the sound of a chainsaw screaming away, then idling, followed by the cracking of wood as another tree leans over and hits the ground with a great thwack. There will be protesters; there may be police. On national television, it will look like the Clayoquot protests of the 1990s.
And all for a medals plaza for the six-week period of the Olympics and Paralympics — yet another instance where Whistler is being screwed by being forced to hold the Olympics.
Except there wasn’t much said about the trees when Whistler was contemplating building an ice rink on the site. There were a few — always have been a few — who think the most appropriate use of Lot 1/9 is to leave it as it is. But in the summer of 2005, after it was discovered the arena might be moved to Squamish; after Whistlerites were told by council “trust us”; after many in the business community complained about the lack of business and how some “animation” was needed to draw people back to the village; after one councillor suggested Whistler needed some “shock and awe tactics” to revive the local economy, there wasn’t too much concern expressed publicly about cutting down the trees and developing Lot 1/9.
The other argument in favour of the arena back then was that a facility was needed because of the demand for ice time among local hockey players and figure skaters. That need was always going to conflict with the village business need, but at the time they both counted as votes in favour of a village arena.
At the end of the summer of 2005 the first public open house on the arena was held. Two hundred people filled out comment forms and 68 per cent were in favour of building a rink. In the fall of 2005, an election year, councillors voted unanimously to build the arena. (The mayor was absent for the vote.)
In January of 2006 a task force was struck and the first public workshop to develop a master plan for Lot 1/9 was held in the conference centre. Municipal staff collected 48 pages of notes from that workshop that described what people wanted Lots 1 and 9 to become. To say Whistlerites wanted it all is to state the obvious. But in response to a series of questions some major themes emerged.