'Downzoning' sends wrong message to investors 

Proposed CC1 bylaw would freeze village buildings at current size; legal challenge threatened

Whistler is sending the wrong message to investors the world over as it considers officially limiting the size of village buildings.

That was the opinion of Tom Johnston, senior vice president of Trilogy Management Services, which manages and leases Whistler’s Marketplace and the Adara Hotel.

He was one of three men to speak at Monday’s public hearing on the CC1 zoning amendment bylaw. Essentially the bylaw aims to keep village buildings at their current sizes, with the capacity to add 20 square metres (215 square feet) for future improvements.

Any increase in size above that would have to go through a rezoning process.

“It really sends the wrong message to the international investor base,” maintained Johnston, adding that the perception abroad, whether correct or incorrect, was that council’s move was an effective downzoning of property rights.

Several CC1 property owners believe they have the right to build to the maximum permitted floor space ratio of 3.5. Most buildings in the zone are not built to that size.

In a letter submission, a lawyer for the Hilton Hotel, Lynn Ramsay, suggested there could be a legal challenge if council moves ahead with the bylaw for what it sees as “simply an expropriation of its property for which the Municipality is not prepared to pay compensation, and if it wishes to increase its density at anytime in the future, it will be required to pay to or provide consideration to the Municipality for an interest the Municipality has taken from it.”

The CC1, or Commercial Core 1, zone stretches from the Tantalus Lodge on the south to Village Gate Boulevard on the north and Blackcomb Way on the east. It includes properties like the Sundial Hotel, the Carleton Lodge, the Crystal Lodge, the Hilton and the Blackcomb Lodge.

Garry Watson, who joked he was the self-appointed unofficial historian in these matters, also took the microphone to bring some historical perspective.

It’s true most of the buildings are not at the maximum floor space ratio (FRS) of 3.5, which is permitted in the zoning. That maximum size, however, was never an incentive offered to the original purchasers, said Watson, rather it was a blanket number applied to all properties.

Each individual site was then negotiated for sale and had covenants put in place, which dictated the size.

“It was never ever intended that all the sites would achieve a 3.5 FSR,” said Watson, who was one of the municipality’s first aldermen.

“The covenants are really an essential element of the zoning.”

Watson added that the village was designed according to a plan, particularly according to the plan of Eldon Beck, who envisioned taller buildings closer to the base of the mountain and smaller buildings further out in order to maximize views and solar access.

“That was the artistry of Eldon Beck,” said Watson.

The village has since been recognized for its world class design and attention to details, like maximum solar exposure and breath-taking views.

But as time went on there was pressure to see additional space added as hotels looked to renovate and upgrade their fading buildings, some of which were nearing the 25 year mark.

That’s why one of the underlying premises during the three-year long consultation and development of the CC1 bylaw was that village businesses should not rely on additional density as a way to make improvements and upgrades in the future.

But chair of the Telemark strata Bill Dickson said his strata isn’t really like the other buildings that fall into the CC1 zone. It’s a 26-unit complex, which is not run as a hotel. By and large, said Dickson, it’s an owner/occupied development.

Over the years, many units have been modestly expanded. The new bylaw, however, would require a homeowner to go through a rezoning process to add more than 20 square metres. It is, in the Telemark strata’s view, a “cumbersome” application.

Council did not move the bylaw forward at the meeting. Its policy is to hold over consideration when there is opposition at a public hearing.


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