Six weeks after it was first scheduled for third reading, after more than two hours of speeches, and before a packed council chambers that included most of the candidates in the Nov. 20 election, Whistler council finally passed the Whistler South Comprehensive Development Strategy Monday. Barely. By a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Hugh O’Reilly breaking the deadlock, Intrawest’s plans for redevelopment of Creekside, The Peaks and Spring Creek subdivisions was approved, with only very minor changes from what had been in the plans at the time of the Sept. 13 public hearing. "In the first six months of this council I had to cast eight deciding votes," O’Reilly said before stating his support for the project. "I don’t think I’ve had to do another one until tonight." Councillors Ken Melamed, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Dave Kirk all voted against the project, largely on the basis of The Peaks, a 60-lot subdivision above Creekside which will permit private homes of between 4,000 and 7,500 square feet. "When this was first introduced I said I would find it difficult to support The Peaks," Kirk said. "I tried to maintain an open mind. I could support the bed units up there but I’m not happy with the type of building proposed. "I’m not in favour of attracting the rich and the filthy rich to Whistler." Wilhelm-Morden and Melamed went farther. "Intrawest is supposed to be our partners," Melamed said. "I suggest partners don’t blackmail each other. I feel that’s what’s happening to get the school." Melamed said there were numerous occasions in the last few months when council tried to sever the school site, which is part of the Spring Creek subdivision, from the rest of the deal but Intrawest refused. Intrawest has agreed to donate the serviced school site to the school board for an elementary school that Whistler desperately needs. Wilhelm-Morden said the Whistler South project was in the best interest of Intrawest shareholders, not the community. "It was a good idea to bring the three projects forward at the same time, but not to bundle them all in one bylaw," Wilhelm-Morden said. "There’s some good, there’s some bad, there’s some really good — the school. The idea is to hope council holds their nose and approves it." The major problem with the project, Wilhelm-Morden said, was The Peaks. "We would never approve it if it stood alone. It’s contrary to common sense — a 2 km road to access 60 lots?" Councillor Ted Milner said he was stunned others would turn down the $150 million investment Intrawest was proposing. "Intrawest wanted a comprehensive plan, otherwise the pieces would be picked off one by one," Milner said. "I think, intuitively, Intrawest does need all aspects of the CDS." He added that if the proposal failed, Intrawest could dedicate those funds to one of its other resorts and the opportunity to revitalize Creekside may not come along again for some time. Councillor Kristi Wells conceded that The Peaks alone probably wouldn’t be approved as a development project, "but it’s the packaging of the CDS that makes it." The comprehensive approach to zoning provides the community with certainty, Wells added. "More than $15 million worth of community amenities are coming from the CDS," she said. Councillor Stephanie Sloan also voted in favour of the Whistler South CDS, noting Intrawest could have put most of the bed units at Creekside, "but we didn’t want that so they spread them out." O’Reilly said Whistler is no danger of becoming exclusively for the rich, like Beaver Creek. He noted the large houses will be empty most of the time and provide little impact on the municipal infrastructure, while contributing greatly to municipal taxes. "These bed units were earned when the lifts went in," O’Reilly added. "We are double dipping in some respects." The Whistler South CDS provides certainty for the community and there is an opportunity to fine-tune it and move some of the bed units around, O’Reilly said. "If we stop this it goes back to square one and the (municipal planning) system gets plugged up." While third reading does give Intrawest some certainty the project will now proceed, it’s possible the delays have set the elementary school back another year. The school was scheduled to open in September of 2001, assuming the school board can take title to the site next spring and Intrawest services and prepares the site next summer. Construction of the school would take place in the spring and summer of 2001. However, school board officials concede that schedule is very optimistic. The Whistler South CDS was on council’s agenda for third reading three times prior to Monday night, and pulled each time. The reason for the delay was a fear that Intrawest might pull out of the deal with Decigon to purchase the Emerald Forest area if Whistler South was rejected by council. Intrawest and Decigon signed a binding agreement two weeks ago.