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Whistler businesses want municipality to refocus on economy

Business owners complain of "red tape" making it difficult to prosper

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Pique Oct. 6, 2011

In the lead-up to November's election, a common theme is emerging from Whistler business owners: the municipality makes it tough to do business here.

Business owners around the community believe it is getting harder to do business in the world's premier ski resort. Part of that has to do with a stagnant world economy that has manifested itself in Whistler in the form of empty shop fronts and fewer international visitors.

But, according to a number of businesspeople in Whistler, it also has a lot to do with rules and actions being taken at the hall. Taxes are going up - 22 per cent in the past four years - and on top of that they claim the municipality is implementing rules and procedures that make it difficult to add value to a business.

"The role of the municipality is to make it easier for businesses to operate within Whistler," said Wayne Katz, owner of Zog's, Moguls and Gone Bakery.

Just putting a new table on a patio at any of his restaurants has to go through a lengthy procedure before it can happen, said Katz, who is also the co-president of the Whistler Restaurants Association, though he spoke to Pique only on behalf of himself.

"There's a lot of red tape you have to go through to make things happen. So if the processes were easier and more accommodating for the small businesses, ie. there are too many departments to have to go through, it would make it easier and of course it would help business a lot."

An application for a development permit, for example, would first go to planning staff, then be circulated around to various municipal departments for review.

Depending on the complexity of the development, it would have to be taken to the Advisory Design Panel or the Advisory Planning Commission. Once that's completed, the applicant could be asked to submit revised plans. If staff is satisfied with the plans, it then goes to council for approval, and even there, council can render a decision or send it back to staff for further review.

The municipality permits a streamlined approval process for additions to buildings or structures where the interior floor space is increased by 20 square metres or less.

"There's too many things just to do something simple," said Katz.

Development permits, however, aren't the only place that business owners feel there are too many rules.

Pat Kelly, a notary public and owner of the Whistler Real Estate Company, said the next mayor and council need to make decisions through the lens of, "Is this good for business?" And, he said, they need to stop living on the idea that people will keep coming because it's Whistler.

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