Bargaining tide turns
Decigon plays by the rules and municipality scrambling to negotiate deal
When the Decigon Corp. exercised its option to buy the MDC lands adjacent to Tapley’s Farm yesterday, the company acquired one of the last jewels in the crown that is Whistler’s valley bottom.
And with one real-estate transaction the tables have turned on the municipality. It is now entering into talks with the Decigon owners to work out an arrangement to protect and preserve as much of the Emerald Forest as possible for the community.
Decigon’s plans for a large-lot subdivision on their holdings have potential impact on an established network of mountain bike trails best known as the Emerald Forest and on the eventual extension of Lorimer Road to Alta Lake Road. Whistler Mayor Ted Nebbeling says the municipality’s past efforts to limit the size and scope of proposed developments on the Decigon lands now put the municipality in a strange position.
"Unfortunately the value of those mountain bike trails has been emphasized a number of times," Nebbeling says. "First when we turned down a rezoning application eight years ago and then again four years later."
Now, fed up with having rezoning applications turned down, Larry Houghton and the rest of the Decigon principals are going to play by the existing rules rather than ask the municipality to change them. If RR1 land only allows 20 acre lots then that is what they will create. Suddenly the municipality’s desire not to see anything happen on the Decigon lands has come right back at them — and now council is trying to negotiate a deal.
"For years we wanted to secure the Emerald Forest and all of its community amenities, but the bargaining tide has turned to their (Decigon’s) side, rather than them having to come to us," Nebbeling says.
Decigon’s owners, who have been sitting on their land for 18 years, paying taxes and spending money on development plans, could "go in there tomorrow with bulldozers and get to work" if they wanted to, Nebbeling says.
Houghton told council Monday that after a law suit brought on by a cyclist who broke her back on the property a few years ago the Decigon people were in jeopardy of losing their liability insurance. The move to subdivide the property is partly in response to legal concerns.
"We agree this is not the best use of the property but we are forced into it by legal constraints and economic constraints," Houghton said.
Nebbeling met with Larry and Glen Houghton of Decigon on Tuesday and they indicated they were willing to work with the municipality to design a development that would fit in with the wishes of the local community — but they want some return.
"They are willing to play fair, but they aren’t going to be Santa Claus either, because we sure weren’t overly generous when they were asking us for favours," Nebbeling says.
A number of scenarios, including one which may have the municipality purchase the land as park, are in the works, but Nebbeling will not go into any details other than to say an agreement has to be hammered out quickly. An extension of Lorimer Road and a bridge across the River of Golden Dreams has to be engineered, but according to Nebbeling, the deal has to be struck before any bridge plans can get underway.
"We (council) do recognize the Emerald Forest as one of the last jewels on the valley floor, but our opportunity to have any say on what happens there has passed," he says. "Rather than us telling them what to do they are coming to us with ideas… it’s a different game now."
Grant Lamont, communications director with the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, says the Emerald Forest is a "valuable area" and everyone involved — the community, council, Decigon and riders — have to work together to come up with the best plan for the area.
"If Decigon wishes to involve us in their plan we are more than willing to try and help find a way to get them what they are looking for as long as we are involved in the planning process," Lamont says. "We don’t want to be adversarial toward the landowners because we have been riding on their property for 10 years."