New campground planned for Whistler at Mons rail crossing
A creek runs through it; two hydro lines run over it
By Chris Woodall
An interesting but subtle spat developed between municipal councillors Kristi Wells and Ken Melamed over allowing a campground and employee housing project to proceed, during the council meeting, Monday night.
What’s called the Riverside Campground is proposed for a site where the Layton Bryson Stables are currently: to the east of Highway 99 just as you head north over the bridge avoiding the BC Rail line.
The site would hold 88 full-service sites accessible by car and RV, 64 walk-in tent sites, 10 group walk-in sites, and 12 small camping cabins that are essentially shelters from the elements.
There’s also to be a recreation and an administration building, both with employee housing units on a second floor. These buildings would offer convenience store, delicatessen and indoor recreation facilities to campers.
The employee housing component is to have six studio and four one-bedroom units.
Fitzsimmons Creek runs through the middle of the proposed campground.
Two high-voltage transmission lines run through the property as well: one line over the middle of the land, the second along the north property line. A third hydro line is parallel to the other two, but farther north.
What’s called the "upper bench" of the land — the far side of the creek from the highway — is described as forested and bordered on all sides by undeveloped land and the Spruce Grove Park. The walk-in camp sites and 26 full-service RV sites would go here, but 6.5 hectares would be set aside as tree preservation.
The lower bench is flood plain, with some large trees and dense underbrush. The campground proposal would put 62 RV sites, the main buildings, cabins and comfort station here.
The parts of the hydro right of way over this area will be used for parking, 18-hole mini-golf, a batting cage, a children’s play area and open space.
Other parts of the property would be set aside for picnic and play areas. The owners — A.H. and W.G. Holley — want to keep the mature trees, while replacing the dense brush with grass.
A section of the Lost Lake cross-country trail currently trespasses on part of this property. Municipal staff say the land owners have allowed the trail to exist and have proposed a new cross-country trail around the outer edge of the property.
The land has been logged and mature trees have already been cleared from the hydro transmission line corridor.
There are a number of unresolved concerns that muni staff have with the development plan as it stands, including the effect of hydro lines on residents in the employee housing component.
The campground would fit several criteria regarding proximity to the Village, and environmental, heritage values and the operator’s experience with a campground.
The hydro lines became a fearful bogeyman for councillors worried about the effect of radiation on long-term tenants.
"The hydro lines are a concern, but not enough to say we can’t give this our consideration," councillor Dave Kirk said. "But I don’t want this to be a signal to other landowners that we’re open for business under BC Hydro right-of-ways."
The lack of any in-village camping facility for the past two years in Whistler is a "glaring error" that could be solved with this project, councillor Kristi Wells said. "With the number of campers and RVers coming through this valley, the campground provides an economic way for families and seniors to visit Whistler. It’s an enhancement to tourism and I hesitate to delay it any further."
The prospect that the campground might be a magnet for year-round campers caught councillors Ted Milner’s and Dave Kirk’s attention, but muni staff assured them the land is zoned for tourist camping only, although camping would be allowed in winter.
"The last thing we want is employees using the camping cabins in winter," councillor Kirk said.
"A campground should be an attraction, (but) I don’t look at a location between three power lines as an attraction," said councillor Ken Melamed in opposing the project.
"It doesn’t meet environmental criteria, the bridge (over Fitzsimmons Creek) is on the only wetlands on the property, it impacts on riparian environment and the loss of parkland is another factor," Melamed said.
"We need a campground very much, but we need to find an appropriate location that won’t disturb wetlands and riparian habitat," Melamed said.
"I don’t see the urgency — the community is entitled to more than one go at this," Melamed said, suggesting council have an additional public meeting to look at the project.
"It’s not good enough to have a disclaimer at the roadside saying, ‘sorry about the hydro lines, but please enjoy your stay’," Melamed said.
Kristi Wells was having none of that rhetoric.
"We would very clearly prefer to not have hydro lines there, but it’s been four years now that council has been trying to get a new campground," she replied to Melamed’s opposition to the project.
"It’s already a disturbed area," she noted of the roads, businesses, hydro lines, anti-flooding berms and other man-made intrusions to the area.
"The more you try to achieve an aesthetic, as soon as you allow RVs you are already taking away from that aesthetic standard," Wells said. "Given the choices, and what we have to offer visitors, this is the best choice for this land."
"We’ve taken some time to look at employee housing and this bears looking at further," Melamed shot back.
Wells sits on the Whistler Valley Housing Society, an organization that has taken some heat for not moving faster on the employee/affordable housing issue.
When Melamed argued again for a public information meeting before first and second reading was passed, Wells reminded him that such a meeting had already taken place.
Wells, Kirk, Milner and Stephanie Sloan voted to give the first two readings. Melamed voted against. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden weren’t at the council meeting.
A public meeting will be held sometime down the road, but its scope will be to look at the plans as they are.