A large and engaged crowd poured through Myrtle Philip Community School this week for an open house on the proposed plans for Northlands—the last and largest piece of developable land in Whistler Village.
On Monday, June 13, an estimated 180 attendees got a closer look at two different development concepts proposed by applicant Beedie Living for the 5.8-hectare site on which the Whistler Racket Club (WRC) now sits.
As has been the case since the plans were first made public earlier this month, there was a strong and vocal contingent of WRC supporters on hand pushing for the facility to remain, either at its current site or somewhere else in the community.
“The ideal outcome for me would be for the Racket Club to stay basically where it is, or at least to see a plan that includes where it is. And then if there were to be an alternate plan that fully describes where it will be and what will be included in other locations, with access to the land and whatnot, we will listen to that and make a choice,” said attendee Chuck Saunders. “But without that, all these other plans are just a diversion for me.”
This seems to be a general consensus among most racket-sport enthusiasts. They mostly agree that Whistler is in need of more housing—both of Beedie’s concepts propose a mixed residential component—but were disappointed the WRC, which has grown into a vibrant social hub in the pandemic, or, for that matter, any racket-sport amenity, weren’t mentioned in the draft plans.
Whistler Tennis Association director Robert LeBlanc, who was also in attendance Monday, said he would like to get a more detailed sense not only of the potential plans for a possible alternative location, but a better handle on the potential economic value of the land.
“By removing the conditions to the development permit, removing the covenant on the property, how much extra benefit does that give to the developer and how many extra units is that?” LeBlanc asked. “Because that’s going to inform how much money the municipality may feel they’re entitled to with respect to amenity contributions.”
On Monday, Nicholas Dhaliwal, Beedie Living’s senior residential development manager, told Pique it’s still too early to put a specific dollar amount on the parcel, before the community and Resort Municipality of Whistler has its say on preferred uses and specific amenities that could be attached as a condition of approval. Municipal staff have identified employee housing, park space, childcare space, and office/medical space as potential onsite or in-kind amenities, while non-market housing and recreation facilities were identified as potential off-site amenities. Commercial space was also envisioned as part of the initial proposals.
“The community benefit negotiation has to take place first, to create that value,” Dhaliwal said. “Where that value gets administered is going to be a council-led decision, once they get all the feedback from the community and look at a lot of the policies that they’ve been working on. So we don’t know that answer yet. Definitely council will give us direction at the time they make that decision.”
But with a maximum potential of 832 bed units allocated to the site, along with a rough idea of some of the allowable uses there, LeBlanc believes a ballpark estimate could have been arrived at.
“Because right now, we have a lot of people in the room who are just going, ‘Yeah, this looks pretty, this looks nice. But what are we gonna get out of it?’” he added. “I think we have a lot of people here who are interested and excited about the next vision for racket sports in the community—but not a lot of guarantees.”
As for attendee Bob Cameron, he is content to let the process play out and was appreciative of the extra chances to provide input thanks to the RMOW’s “enhanced” rezoning process for Northlands.
“I’m willing to wait and see what happens at the end of this process and where we go from there, rather than, you know, having that knee-jerk reaction that [a racket facility] is not going to be part of the project,” he said.
The current engagement stage is meant to inform the final amenity package, and could include the provision of onsite amenities and/or a contribution towards public benefits offsite. Attendee and occasional WRC user Sarka Talaga, while appreciative of the social and recreational benefits the facility offers, would prefer to see a development that emphasizes affordable housing and medical office space, particularly as she has been on the Whistler Housing Authority’s rental waitlist for years and recently lost her regular family doctor.
“I was part of the Town Plaza Medical Clinic. I went there for five years and now it’s gone and I don’t have a doctor, so for me, the essential services for the community are more important than more shops,” she said.
“Especially the last couple of months … Now it’s the buses, it’s no doctors, no housing, it’s everything. What’s happening? So I would like to see those essential services being provided.”
There are still multiple ways to provide input on the project, including through an online questionnaire at engage.whistler.ca/4500northlands, 10-minute “lunch chats” over Zoom with an RMOW staff member on June 22, and at pop-up information booths at the Whistler Farmers’ Market, dates to be confirmed. A public hearing will also be held prior to third reading of the possible rezoning.
Stay up to date at whistler.ca/northlands.