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A review of October’s Town Hall meeting suggests transportation is going to be the next big issue facing Whistler. "People are sitting six and seven hours to get from the airport to Whistler," Mayor Ted Nebbeling said Tuesday. "I think transportation is going to be as big an issue as housing," added Councillor Max Kirkpatrick. "I think it could do more damage to us than anything." "It’s beginning to discourage people from coming to Whistler," Nebbeling added. The transportation issue has two aspects: getting people to and from Whistler and moving people around within Whistler. A regional approach is needed to address the former. John Nelson, director of engineering for the municipality, suggested an expert on commercial parking may be needed to help assess the latter situation, in view of the amount of commercial development which has taken place in Village North in the past two years. A public workshop on transportation has been set for 1 p.m. Jan. 29. However, transportation is just one of the issues tied to Whistler’s overall growth, and councillors Tuesday agreed a number of steps should be taken as a result of concerns raised at last fall’s Town Hall meeting. Among the steps is establishing base standards for things such as air and water quality, expanding the monitoring program to include more environmental and social studies and attracting youth to participate in the Town Hall meeting. "I think our air and water quality are acceptable now, but we have to establish bench marks, set standards now," said Councillor Hugh O’Reilly. A variety of suggestions for solutions to the affordable housing problem were raised at the Town Hall meeting, including giving some consideration to lifting the cap on bed units. Council Tuesday noted the suggestions and the fact that a number of proposals for affordable housing projects are now coming forward. But commercial growth will continue — Lot 9 is the only unsold parcel left in Village North, and all the parcel owners are expected to build this year. That prompted Councillor Bill Murray to ask if anything can be done about the rate of growth. "Although we’re growing quickly, it’s not out of control," Mike Vance, director of planning, responded. "We are a victim of our own success, in some senses. If a person has zoning they have the right to apply for a permit." Vance noted that all Village North parcels were zoned and rights against title taken care of before they went on the market. Having those details resolved at the time of sale has speeded up the development process on those parcels. With the anticipated buildout of Village North over the next two years Kirkpatrick posed the question: "Are we adequately staffed for the next couple of years of growth?" Nebbeling suggested some departments, like engineering and planning, may have to take on additional staff to deal with the anticipated growth. The pace of development this year has put municipal staff under a great deal of pressure. Administrator Peter Kent was absent on medical leave for about a month. The final word on the Town Hall meeting review went to Councillor Dave Kirk, who suggested that in lieu of the expected development in the next two years there is little need to provide incentives for economic diversification. "To promote it now would contribute to housing and transportation problems," Kirk said. "I don’t think we should spend a lot of time on (economic diversification) right now." Other councillors agreed.

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