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Northlands rezoning represents ‘missing piece of the puzzle’

Enhanced process to engage Whistlerites ‘early and often’
Northlands aerial
An aerial shot of the site at 4500 Northlands Blvd., north of Whistler Village.

An “enhanced” rezoning process is now underway for the largest remaining undeveloped piece of land in Whistler’s core village area, though the owners of the property aren’t ready to talk specifics in terms of what might be built.

First, they’d like to hear from Whistlerites.

The lands at 4500 Northlands Blvd., 4711 Settebello Dr., and 4700 Blackcomb Way—collectively known as 4500 Northlands, and often referred to locally as the Holborn lands—have long been contemplated for development.

With the adoption of Whistler’s updated Official Community Plan (OCP) last summer, new owners Beedie Whistler Holdings, Ltd. are ready to begin the process in earnest.

“We’re still in the very, very preliminary stages of this; no active submissions yet, but [this is] really to outline a process that we can work together with, and have robust community engagement together,” said Curtis Neeser, VP of residential development with Beedie Living.

The enhanced rezoning process is similar to what is done with bigger projects in the Lower Mainland, Neeser added.

“What it does, to be candid, is it brings the community along with the project, and it’s not like we go away for a year and all of a sudden come up with this concept and everybody’s like, ‘Well, hold on, I didn’t get any input on that,’” he said.

“So we are very much aligned with staff on this process, and have been working with them about what that would look like.”

In Whistler’s 1993 OCP, the property—a prime, five-hectare piece of real estate located at the end of Northlands Boulevard, north of Whistler Village—was zoned for a 450-room hotel and other amenities.

The current zoning allows for a nine-storey hotel with a Phase 2 rental pool covenant, along with density for indoor recreation and employee housing, said director of planning Mike Kirkegaard in a March 15 media briefing.

In the updated OCP, the lands are identified as being in the Whistler Village Core Commercial Area, “and that designation provides for a wide variety of potential uses,” Kirkegaard said, including visitor and residential accommodation uses, as well as commercial, recreational and institutional uses.

A restrictive covenant on title provides for a maximum of 837 bed units on the primary site, while a secondary lot has 48 bed units “committed for employee housing,” Kirkegaard added.

While Beedie has submitted a letter of intent to begin the process, the first step is to establish guiding principles, said general manager of resort experience Jessie Gresley-Jones.

“I think in general it is a pretty exciting location and opportunity for Whistler and for Beedie as well. It’s inherently well-positioned to meet a lot of the objectives of good planning principles, [and] meet climate targets,” Gresley-Jones said.

“So I think there’s a lot of opportunity on the site, but that is going to have to be defined through the public process in terms of what gets landed there, and I think that’s really exciting.”

Discussions around what type of amenity might be delivered as part of the development are also premature.

“We think we can get creative in amenity delivery by working closely with staff and the municipality, and we understand there is a variety of important needs right now in the community, including employee housing, including family housing, including tennis and other recreational uses,” Neeser said.

“So it’s kind of understanding, as we go through the process, how to best address what we can, and what’s the highest and best needs for the community.”

The lands have had a tennis amenity associated with them since they were first granted development rights back in 1989, and the tennis courts currently on site will be “viewed as a stakeholder in this process moving forward, and be considered in their temporary nature and in the ultimate amenities for the site,” said Gresley-Jones, adding that the development will be phased over time.

“There will be considerations of what parcel or what component makes sense to be built first, and maybe potentially allow some of those facilities to stay in place if possible for a period of time.”

The six hectares or so of land located at 4700 Blackcomb Way (bordering Fitzsimmons Creek) will remain as a conservation zone, Neeser added, whether by covenant or another mechanism.

As for the rezoning itself, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) staff is planning to engage council and the public “early and often” throughout a three-phase process: establish planning and development principles; identify and evaluate alternative concepts that address potential site development and associated community amenities; and determine supported uses and community amenities (with direction from council) prior to the development of the actual zoning bylaw.

Community engagement opportunities are planned at “key points in the process,” as well as regular updates to council and consultation with community stakeholders (including the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations).

Following that, the standard rezoning process would apply, including a public hearing.

The entire rezoning is targeted for completion in September 2022.

“The missing piece of the puzzle is going to get filled in,” said Councillor Cathy Jewett, after a lengthy and informative presentation on the site and its history, as well as Whistler Village’s development.

“It’s pretty exciting, and I really like the idea of community engagement that we’re talking about, and I hope that everyone starts to think about what is going to go in that hole.”

In a related March 16 agenda item, Whistler council also gave first three readings to an amendment to its Land Use Procedures and Fees bylaw to create a new category for large and complex development applications that require more RMOW resources.

The “complex site rezoning” definition will apply to parcels of at least 45,000 square metres and for which the proposed rezoning requires an amenity zoning or phased development agreement.

A complex site rezoning will come with a minimum fee of $150,000 for the first 10,000 square metres of site area, plus $350 per additional 100 square metres, to a maximum of $750,000.

Though council’s support was unanimous, Coun. Duane Jackson raised concerns over the parameters of the new definition, pointing out it could lead to affordability issues for future large sites like the Cheakamus Crossing lower lands.

“This concerns me just a little bit,” Jackson said. “[But] I guess council could always modify the policy if we bump into something that we didn’t consider in the future.”