Kudos to Councillor Eckhard Zeidler for proposing that Whistler reaffirm its commitment to a solid bed cap. I hope all councilors will back him on this when it comes to a vote.
Whistler clearly does not get better as it gets bigger, for visitors or for residents. Most long-time locals would probably say that we’re too big already and many are leaving or have left for saner pastures. Sloping pastures where the fresh snow isn’t tracked out by 10 a.m. on a powder day.
For too many years we’ve been caught in a vicious cycle. As more housing and commercial developments are approved, more employees are required to build and staff those developments. Then council is called on to approve more staff housing projects to accommodate those extra workers, adding more beds that were not always counted in the bed cap or regulated in any definable way.
Zeidler’s proposal would reaffirm the existing bed cap of 62,150, including all staff housing units, present and future. Sound like a lot? It is — at capacity, it makes Whistler the seventh largest municipality in the province behind Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Prince George. It’s rare that all of those beds would ever be occupied at once, although we probably come pretty close during the Christmas holidays.
Once the current slate of projects is completed — Intrawest’s new projects in Creekside and Base II, the redevelopment at the tennis club, Fitzsimmons Walk, Rainbow, Alpine North, the athletes’ village, Green River Estates, Kadenwood, Nita Lake, Lakecrest, Stonebridge, and various building lots scattered through town — we should be at our capacity, give or take. What Zeidler wants to address is what happens next, and to etch the bed unit number in stone.
It won’t be easy. Intrawest, the parent company of Whistler-Blackcomb, is not a resort management company as much as it is a real estate development company. They will continue to build as long they are allowed, and will develop every single bed unit they have. Through decades of growth we’ve also birthed a large local construction industry that won’t be happy when we hit a hard cap. That won’t happen for a decade, and there will likely be work in Squamish and Pemberton for a long time after that — but will the construction industry downsize to recognize the cap or merely move to develop the corridor between Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, outside of municipal boundaries?
You could easily make a case that too much growth will hurt our tourism industry. Do visitors really want to spend days of travel and thousands of dollars to wait in lines at restaurants, stores and chairlifts?