By Amy Fendley
After a six-week reflection period Whistler council has decided it does not support chalets, villas or new pension accommodations in residential areas.
The new policy, introduced at the end of council’s regular meeting Monday night, was approved by a 4-2 margin, with Councillors Ken Melamed and Stephanie Sloan opposed.
"I think council came to the right decision," said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has opposed allowing tourist accommodation in residential areas all along.
"It was a split vote so it continues to be an issue that generates a lot of controversy and discussion. In my mind it was the right way to go. It’s the right decision for the RMOW, for the guests of our resort, as it ensures they stay in the right type of accommodation, not away from amenities or the free shuttle," Wilhelm-Morden said.
"It’s also in the best interest of neighbourhoods by protecting them from commercial activity."
The reversal of position comes nearly a year after council invited tourist accommodation rezoning applications from all subdivisions.
Peter De Jong, whose villa rezoning application had obtained third reading, said he recognizes that finding a solution to the issue was a tough project, but he fears that council was afraid to take a stand, not wanting to rub some voters the wrong way.
"With an election on the horizon, this council gave up on trying to find a solution and the took the easy way out," said De Jong. "That being the case, they should’ve opted for a referendum in November, where those who want a rental option but have been afraid to speak out, could’ve been heard."
The full policy passed Monday includes entertaining residential tourist accommodation rezoning applications for properties with a Phase I rental pool covenant which do not already permit temporary tourist accommodation (Courtyard, Gondola 6, Gondola Heights, Gondola Village, Lake Placid Lodge, London Lane Condos, Powderview, Sundance, Whistler Creek Ridge and Northern Lights); certain properties on the Blackcomb Benchlands and Taluswood (Blackcomb Greens, Forest Creek, Treeline, The Woods Taluswood Phase I and the Ridge at Taluswood); and for new development areas.
As well, a one-year moratorium on bed and breakfast rezoning applications has been instituted.
The new policy comes one month after the original deadline for illegal tourist accommodation operators to comply with RMOW bylaws prohibiting nightly rentals in most single family homes. Enforcement of those bylaws will continue.
Of the well over 100 units which had been operating "illegally" as chalets or villas, many had taken steps toward rezoning to become "legal" operations. De Jong’s rezoning application was one of two which had received third reading, but still had to be adopted.
In April, after neighbours raised strong objections to several rezoning applications, council decided on a six-week moratorium to re-evaluate the whole process.
Over the past few years the municipality has considered numerous options to deal with chalets and villas, including temporary commercial use permits. What councillors eventually decided upon was to enforce the existing Bylaw 303, established in 1983 to regulate commercial accommodation in residential areas of Whistler. Last summer they invited rezoning applications.
Wilhelm-Morden, who has opposed TA rezonings from the beginning, says that the original decision to re-zone chalet and villa properties was because all other options didn’t work for one reason or another.
And it seems the last one didn’t as well.
"It’s a very unfortunate choice after so much effort from applicants and muni planning staff to accommodate the needs and concerns of as many interests as possible," said De Jong. "Staff recommended a licensing system, the cost of which could have been offset by licensing fees, WRA fees and hotel taxes. This would have been acceptable to many who were in opposition at the April 12 public hearing. Now we have a very negative atmosphere in which many thousands of taxpayers’ dollars will be spent in court instead of constructively in the private accommodation market.
"As far as the thousands of people who prefer to rent a home for their family vacation, council had written off the lower end Vancouver market and the mid-range American market," states De Jong. "They can’t be serviced by Nicklaus North or by Horstman, Blueberry, LUC (Land Use Contract) homes, for which TA use is still in question."
De Jong says while he is being reimbursed for his application fees, there is no reimbursement for the time and energy that has been spent trying to get approval.
"The only thing that they’re offering us is a refund on the $750 application fee," says De Jong. "It’s one thing to assume a risk, it’s another to spend the money not expecting to see it again and having the rug pulled out from under you."