Let's suppose you were walking along one of the trails around Lost Lake on a nice spring day. You remember nice spring days, don't you? Let's suppose you weren't really paying much attention to where you were stepping, distracted as you were by the olfactory assault of spring — thawing earth, uncovered leaf mould and dog presents, emerging skunk cabbage, the simultaneous drying and composting of last autumn's riot of death. You stumble, regain your balance and composure and catch a glimpse of something tarnished, but vaguely shiny protruding from the path from whence you just came.
In a momentary fit of pique, you kick at the thing that nearly brought you to your knees and unearth, what else? A lamp. Not a nondescript living room lamp with a flickering compact florescent bulb, but a oh-my-god-there-must-be-a-genie-in-there kind of lamp.
What would you do?
Well, you'd rub it of course. Maybe after sneaking a look around to see if anyone was watching, but nonetheless you'd rub it.
Poof! Vapour oozes out of the lamp, reminiscent of the B.C. bud you just smoked and you assume you're hallucinating as it coalesces around the shape of, well, what else? A Genie.
You: "Whoa, Dude!"
Genie: "Thank you; I've been cramped in there since the before time.
You: "You... you're a genie?"
Genie: "How observant of you."
You: "So, do I get three wishes."
Genie: "No, that's only in fairy tales."
You: "Well, what do I get?"
Genie: "Why do you assume you get anything? Everybody's so greedy."
You: "Because I released you from the lamp, Dude."
Genie: "Right. That means you get to live in the lamp now."
Genie: "Just yankin' your chain."You: "Whew. You had me goin' there. So what do I get?"
Genie: "You don't get anything. But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll build the biggest development this town's seen since, well, since this town itself was built. It'll increase the population by, say, 20 per cent... assuming it all works according to plan. And, it'll all 'fit' within Whistler 2020. Whaddya think?"
You: "Are you shittin' me? How about just one little wish? Maybe a new bike."
Genie: "Take it or leave it. But hurry up and make a decision."
So that's a no-brainer, right? We'd leave it, right? There's nothing in the collective consciousness of Tiny Town that envisions, embraces or supports that kind of growth, right?
Or is there? Suppose that blueprint for growth came wrapped in something even more seductive and heartwarming than maman's tarte au sucré? Something appealing to our higher angels and aspirations? Something like an institution of higher education?
I guess we'll find out. After a tease, so long and drawn out I almost lost interest, the proponents of what's come to be called WhistlerU — picture a little green seedling growing out of the U which, in case anyone's not been paying attention, stands for University — have finally tabled a proposal. The game's afoot, Watson.
Confident this council will be more receptive than the previous council(s) and having done a remarkable amount of partnering, positioning and prosthelytizing, Doctor Doug has finally laid his cards on the table and shown us Plan B, WhistlerU.
What of Plan A, eh? Well, to recap, Plan A would be to move forward with the zoning in place on what have come to be called the Zen Lands. That zoning allows four very handsome estate homes to be built, not really enough to even call it a subdivision let alone warrant a gate. Given the landowners have been working on Plan B for longer than most of us can remember, I think it safe to rename Plan A the Plan of Lost Resort. Accordingly, we'll give it no further consideration.
Plan B envisions a "world-class" university campus being built on the site over the next five to 10 years, costing somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300 million. WhistlerU would occupy about 30 per cent of the site, which is 77 acres more or less, directly across from Spring Creek, bounded on the north by Alta Lake Road and on the east by Highway 99. According to the website, it would be "...unobtrusive to those arriving by road ...," although I'm not sure it's visual impact is really the issue here.
Now there are those who have called WhistlerU a real estate play. Doctor Doug has said it isn't. I don't know if it is or not. When asked if the money behind the development would build the university on another site, assuming one could be found, the answer was no, the money runs with the land. Make of that what you will. I'm not a developer but I've lent enough money to developers in a past life to feel comfortable using the "if it quacks like a duck" analogy ... but I'll refrain for the time being.
That's because I'm glad there's actually a proposal that we can finally discuss. And make no mistake, this is going to take some discussion, as well as rezoning and an amendment to the OCP, all of which require copious public consultation.
Naturally, the proponents would prefer a quicker answer. In their submission, the project architects wrote, "This project needs to move quickly through the process with clear community support and thereby maintain the confidence of our educational partners, minimize the cost of the approvals process and maximize the funds available towards real project quality and environmental sustainability. Therefore OKA Holdings is requesting that Council consider a fast track approvals process for both the rezoning and development permits for the first phase of development, and reasonable expectations with respect to offsite improvements."
WhistlerU envisions a campus housing, perhaps, 1,400-1,500 students and another 500 faculty and staff. In other words, another Cheakamus Crossing, sans the asphalt plant. Looked at another way, the student and staff population would be 20 per cent of Whistler's fulltime resident population.
Now dropping a development that size into, say, Kamloops (population 85,000) might not make too many ripples, let alone, as Doctor Doug likes to point to, Heidelberg, "...an excellent example of a tourist destination that is enriched by the presence of a University." But Heidelberg's population is 145,000 and the town's university was established in 1386.
The good news is, this ain't no pipeline, or any other kind of energy project the federal government is going to ramrod through. Despite the proponent's wishes, this proposal isn't going to move quickly and that's the way it should be. No small town should decide to take on this size project without due deliberation. If Whistler decides to move forward with WhistlerU, it needs to do so with the full recognition that it will fundamentally change the nature of this town... forever.
So let's get on with debating the merits and drawbacks. But let's not be rushed into anything.
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