Zoning for yurts un-defined
By Paul Andrew
Since November of 1997, the yurts on Blackcomb Mountain have had more press than they have had actual overnight visitors, says Rob McSkimming of Whistler-Blackcomb, and if not for all the right exposure, perhaps the yurts would still be quietly offering overnight, backcountry ski trips.
Any other resort attraction would be hard pressed to have the kind of international press the yurts received, but in this case, the stories in high-profile, glossy magazines, daily and weekly newspapers, finally closed the yurts to overnight accommodation.
David Perry, vice-president of sales and marketing for Whistler-Blackcomb, said the understanding was that anyone wishing to use the yurts would already have accommodation in Whistler somewhere, and that the "unique, backcountry experience" which the yurts offered would be a one-night stand.
"When the yurts started to get a lot of attention, the muni came to us and let us know they weren’t zoned for overnight accommodation," Perry said. "When they first opened, we made sure anyone using them also had accommodation elsewhere. It was never meant to be used as a hotel."
Up until this past summer, Whistler-Blackcomb was under the impression it did not need a new zoning definition for the yurts. So for two full seasons, the yurts were allowing overnight guests but, under the municipal’s zoning and parking bylaw, overnight accommodation on Whistler or Blackcomb Mountain is not allowed.
Mike Purcell, director of planning and development for the RMOW, said the community zoning bylaws stretch as far as the Garibaldi Provincial Park boundaries. A new zoning designation will have to be created to let the yurts return to full operation.
"The whole mountain is zoned RR1, which is Rural Resource One, and that allows recreation but not overnight accommodation," Purcell said. "Places like the Chateau or one of the condos on the mountain fall under the Blackcomb Land Use agreement. Typically, there’s a bunch of zoning categories for all of that. But a good portion of it is RR1. We talked about this in the summer and the mountains chose not to rent it out. I haven’t seen an application yet to re-zone that for overnight use. So it’s up to them now."
Perry said the mountains are working with the municipality to resolve the situation, but he said for this season, the yurts will remain a day use area only.
"It was only meant to be a one night, unique, backcountry experience. So number one is, we’re working with the muni on the new zoning," Perry said. "But there’s other things to consider, like the snow load on the roofs of the yurts. That will have to be monitored. But no, we’re not planning to open the yurts for overnight accommodation this season."