Big trees could stand in new Park Georgia plans
Municipality hopes to change deal for golf resort
By Andy Stonehouse
Whistler's mayor and council spent two hours Monday afternoon in what was described as "very rigorous debate" over developer Park Georgia's plans to complete the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort, including a new Hyatt hotel.
The closed-door negotiations are the most recent step in nearly a decade of planning over the housing and recreation complex, which is slated to transform one of the village's last stands of tall forest into a golf driving range.
Jim Moodie, a consultant working with Park Georgia on the controversial plan, had been scheduled to appear before council Monday to discuss the company's plans for the golf facility portion of the property, located kitty-corner to the Whistler Health Centre, but councillors suggested Moodie hold off his visit pending further discussions between the developer and municipal staff.
Park Georgia officials were apparently caught off-guard by council's new position on the project, but local leaders say they needed to speak their peace on the issue.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that while many of the changes proposed by the developer seem appropriate, she and fellow councillors were not happy that municipal staff had recommended approval of plans which still call for the golf facility to be built and the trees cut.
"Park Georgia has an operating arrangement with Hyatt, and the developer has had to re-configure its plans for the hotel, which would need some changes to the official community plan," she said.
Wilhelm-Morden said the developer has asked to transfer about 20,000 square feet of space from the 85 townhouses still left to be built to the 425-room hotel project. The additional space would allow the construction of a bigger spa and larger corridors and service facilities in the hotel.
As well, Park Georgia has asked to delete some of the additional tennis courts planned to be built in association with the project.
"They want some changes, and we want some, but we also don't want the golf facility any more," she said. "We're in a compromise position, and staff needs to have further discussion with the developer."
Wilhelm-Morden said council believed it was pointless for Moodie to still come and make a presentation on a project they do not support.
Councillor Kristi Wells said she feels that with further discussion, the result could be a better project all around, but said cutting the trees to build the golf development is seeming less and less appropriate.
"We have some concerns with the driving range, considering the uniqueness of the forest, and we wonder if it's still needed," she said. "We also agree that we don't need six more tennis courts. They were a little taken aback by our concerns... clearly they wanted to deal with it right now."
Wells said council does not wish to drag the project out any longer and has requested that staff meet with Park Georgia officials as soon as possible.
Whistler's original approvals for the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort required Park Georgia to build the golf training facility before commencing work on the hotel and remaining townhomes, but council dropped that requirement last year in light of environmental concerns for the stand of alluvial spruce forest.
Early last year, Park Georgia returned to the table with a proposal to entirely delete the driving range if the municipality agreed to increase the size of the hotel, delete the tennis courts and hand over a cash payment (or reduce municipal fees) to the tune of $3 million. Council refused but elements of those discussions apparently resurfaced in Monday's talks.