Downzoning may land municipality in court
Council's decision to downzone the Nita Lake lands to RR1 may open the municipality to a legal challenge.
"I almost feel like there’s some sort of sinister thing going on, but I don’t know what it is," Andrew Crosse of First Pacific Projects Ltd. said following a public information meeting Tuesday.
Crosse wouldn't say what action he plans now, but did indicate if a legal challenge is launched the Municipal Act and the rights it grants the municipality would be part of the suit.
"The municipality shouldn't have rights any different from any other person," Crosse said.
"They can get out of (commitments made in) a letter on the basis of the Municipal Act."
Crosse has an option to buy two pieces of property overlooking Nita Lake, between the Alpine 68 condos and the Whistler Alpine Village condos. The municipality had believed the properties were zoned RR1 and due only six bed units. A mapping error in 1983 changed the zoning on one of the properties to RM1, which permits an additional 48 bed units. Crosse had sought rezoning to spread the 54 bed units over both properties in the form of nine log houses.
The mapping error went unnoticed for more than a decade, despite three rezoning applications in that time. A letter from a municipal planner to a real estate agent in December 1993 confirms the RM1 zoning, but the municipality's lawyers say it still has the right to downzone the property to RR1. That's what council voted unanimously (Councillor Bill Murray was absent) to do Tuesday.
"I'm a little shocked," Crosse said afterwards.
"The thing that I find amazing is the municipality could have done this 20 months ago. They could have done it in January when I first made an application."
Crosse says he has spent $25,000 pursuing his development project, but no one at municipal hall gave him any indication the property could be down zoned.
Tuesday's meeting, which drew about 30 people, evoked some of the names associated with Whistler's early development, including Jack Shakespeare and Chunky Woodward. Mary Shakespeare, daughter of Jack and one of the owners of the Nita Lake lands that Crosse holds an option on, said the intent of the owners when they purchased the property 33 years ago was to provide accommodation for skiers.
Other property owners at Alpine 68 and Whistler Alpine Village opposed Crosse’s proposal and said the right thing to do would be to downzone the property to RR1 as council had intended it to be in 1983. One speaker even suggested Shakespeare and Woodward would not have wanted Crosse's development proposal to "go through the backdoor."
Councillor Thelma Johnstone, in making the motion to downzone the property, said the RM1 zoning was an accident and she didn't think the owners ever expected RM1 zoning.
Mayor Ted Nebbeling suggested by downzoning the owners could come forward with a rezoning application and follow the normal rezoning process, although at present the municipality is only entertaining rezoning applications under certain circumstances.
But Councillor Kristi Wells, who did not raise her hand for or against the motion and therefore counts as voting in favour, said prior to the vote: "I think there’s a moral obligation for some kind of financial remuneration. I wouldn’t feel comfortable downzoning until we have further information on financial remuneration."
Crosse felt the same way after the meeting.
"There are damages and costs I've incurred," he said.