Everybody loses in this sequel

Two-plus years wasn’t enough, so now we have Nita Lake Lodge: The Sequel.

The municipality announced Tuesday that it is "restructuring" the zoning amendment bylaws for the Nita Lake Lodge project, which means we have to go through the whole process again, including a public hearing. There are two reasons for this: 1) the municipality received a legal notice that "called into question the appropriateness of a donation to health care as a community benefit related to land use," according to the RMOW’s press release; 2) the bylaws were poorly drafted.

Number 2 is a problem, not excusable but perhaps understandable given the many directions the Nita Lake project was pushed and pulled during its lengthy evolution.

Number 1 sets a frightening precedent.

Let’s review how we got here. The Nita Lake Lodge project, which received third reading on May 20, includes an 80-room, four-storey hotel on Lake Placid Road, a new train station, 14 single family lots on 23 acres across the railway tracks from the station, employee housing on two acres near Twin Lakes Village, resident restricted housing at Creekside, preservation of 25 acres of wetlands and various donations to environmental and trail enhancement projects as well as for playground equipment at Alpha Lake Park.

The problem, from a legal perspective, is that the project also includes more than $1 million for health care in Whistler, specifically: $585,000 for new radiology equipment and $500,000 to the Community Foundation of Whistler to establish a Community Health Fund.

Now, we may not like the process that made this project a reality. It is further incremental growth when Whistler really needs a new overall plan for development. We are told the plan is coming.

The substantial list of community amenities the developers will provide in return for zoning is distasteful to some, further suggesting that Whistler needs to establish its priorities and goals rather than reacting to development offers.

And some people just don’t like the project, feeling the hotel is too big for the site. All these issues were brought forward and considered at various stages of the project, including the public hearing.

But who objects to $1 million for health care in this day and age?

The real issue, of course, is that somebody’s view is going to be spoiled by the Nita Lake Lodge. The health care donation was the only legal means to challenge the municipality. The hope, presumably, is that enough opponents can be gathered at a second public hearing to persuade two of the four councilors who voted in favour of the project to change their minds.

However, the opinions expressed at the first public hearing will be no less valid at the second public hearing, even if fewer people come out to voice their support the second time around. The details of the proposal haven’t changed; the only difference this time is the health care donation won’t be included as part of the revised bylaws.

Again, it is a municipal oversight in the drafting of the bylaws that allows this, but the origin of the challenge is NIMBYism pure and simple. The issue was decided by elected representatives after they heard from and considered the opinions of Whistler residents. Someone doesn’t like it so they threaten a lawsuit.

We can’t help but think of Vail. Whistler was built with the collective whole in mind, rather than the individual first and foremost. This has led to some far-sighted projects, like the Valley Trail and various employee housing developments. In Vail, early attempts to build a public trail were left with big gaps because homeowners refused to grant rights-of-way. In Vail, former astronaut/hero/Senator John Glenn didn’t like a housing project that was going to be within view of his house, so he threatened to sue. It’s the way things are done.

Here at home, the threat of a lawsuit may signal a significant shift in the local social structure, from those who have invested in this town to those who can afford to buy into Whistler.


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