Whistler got its first glimpse this week at a pair of development concepts proposed for Northlands Boulevard, and with no specific mention in the plans of the existing Whistler Racket Club (WRC), supporters were left wondering what the future holds for the popular facility.
On Tuesday, June 7, elected officials and the public got a high-level overview of the two project proposals for the 5.8-hectare site.
Both concepts floated by the developer, Beedie Living, feature a mixed-residential housing component, including townhouses, and low- and mid-rise housing bracketed by a central natural area. In both cases, employee housing and community and commercial uses were proposed in a “community hub” located on the southeast portion of the site, while roadways are minimized, and parking is mostly situated underground to maximize open, public space. Walking and cycling connections to the existing trail network are also emphasized.
The “Village Green” concept focuses on a car-free central open space framed by development, with a 0.85-ha. natural area and pond, a landscaped knoll, 0.56-ha. public plaza, and mixed-use building that proposes retail and commercial use on the ground floor as well as a daycare adjacent to the building.
“The Boulevard” concept is organized into building enclaves defined by a central boulevard, a 0.68-ha. central natural area and pond, community pavilion with sheltered space that could be used for community events and gatherings, and a 0.36-ha. mixed-use community hub and plaza. The applicant also envisions a mixed-use building with retail and commercial on the ground floor, offices on the second and rental housing on the upper floors.
The proposed building heights in both concepts include two- to three-storey townhouses on the northern and eastern portions of the site, four- and six-storey residential buildings in the southwest, and an 11-storey residential building in the northwest, which would make it among the tallest buildings in Whistler.
“Beedie has … been working closely with the RMOW, the Whistler Tennis Association (WTA) and the Whistler Racket Club (WRC) over the last two years to determine if 4500 Northlands is the most appropriate location for a new racket sport facility,” said the developer in an emailed statement. “This next stage in the RMOW’s consultation process encourages public input on the two concepts and public amenities they can support (both on and offsite). We look forward to hearing from the public on this important topic and working with the RMOW.”
Although granular details on the exact uses and housing mix of the proposals were not firm at this early stage in the rezoning process, municipal staff confirmed that the maximum bed-unit potential for the parcel is 832, representing roughly 21 per cent of the 3,900 bed units comprising the village.
Working with RMOW staff, Beedie Living also laid out some of the potential possible uses at the site, and although a recreational amenity was addressed in the report, there was no specific mention of a racquet-sport facility, a glaring omission for the 70 some-odd supporters of the Whistler Racket Club who attended Tuesday’s meeting and contributed to a marathon question-and-answer period at the top of the night that lasted more than 80 minutes when all was said and done.
“A week ago when the plans were made public for the redevelopment of the site, my business was gone. The Whistler Racket Club, Combo Camps, gone. It didn’t exist,” said Jamie Grant, owner of the Whistler Racket Club Group, which leases the space the club sits on from Beedie Living.
Grant and his team took over operations of the club in early 2020, and grew membership from about 50 to 500 during the pandemic. The support for the club and, more generally, a racquet sport facility somewhere in the community, was obvious at Tuesday’s meeting. Dozens of supporters took to the podium, with young and old variously describing what the club has meant to them. There were teary-eyed teens who described growing up at the facility; senior pickleball players who talked about the vibrant social aspect of the club through COVID; and even a new property owner in Whistler who said his multimillion-dollar home “won’t be worth a dime” to him if he can’t play tennis.
But where the vocal contingent made numerous emotional appeals to council, they were repeatedly reminded of the procedural process at play. The RMOW adopted an “enhanced” rezoning process for the complex Northlands site, the last and most significant parcel of developable land in the village, adding an extra phase to the process that allows for more community engagement.
Throughout the night, Mayor Jack Crompton and staff reminded the assembled crowd that the rezoning was still in its early stages, and the public still has plenty of opportunity for feedback—including this Monday, June 13 at a Phase 2 open house—that will ultimately inform whatever decision council will make on the project.
“As long as I have been having conversations about the tennis lands, there has been a request from people who care about it saying we want to be involved early and often, and this is early and often, and I am proud of that,” said Crompton during the meeting. “I think that means our staff have heard that message loud and clear and decided we’re going to put together a process that is going to give people a lot of opportunities for input before we even get to first reading.”
Much of the talk Tuesday centred on what community amenities would be contributed as part of the project. 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. The staff report identifies 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. Given the existing tennis facility covers about a third of the overall site, “it reduces the usable site area and presents challenges when exploring the various site designs and would require other elements of the proposal on the site to be changed or eliminated,” explained municipal planning manager John Chapman.
There is a long historical precedent for tennis on the site, however. In 1988, developer Park Georgia owned the rights to the land with the condition that a world-class, 16-court tennis facility be built (there were also plans for a spa and golf training academy onsite). Park Georgia built three indoor courts, seven outdoor courts and a dining area in 1993, although that facility, today operated by the WRC, was always meant to be temporary.
“We don’t want to come out any further behind in this process than how we started. And how we started out was with the temporary facility, the 10-court facility, and the indoor courts we have right now are insufficient for market demand,” said Robert LeBlanc, director with the Whistler Tennis Association.
“We want a commitment from the RMOW and the developer that tennis and the delivery of a tennis facility, the delivery of a promise that has been lingering for 30 years, is going to be delivered to the community.”
For Grant, the failure to even mention tennis or the WRC anywhere in the staff report or associated documents represents a disappointing oversight.
“I was disappointed. I know it’s early in the process but to not even mention the new amenity or the current Whistler Racket Club and what plans there might be for it or not—it’s the uncertainty and kind of just being dismissed and ignored that I think has everyone a little anxious,” he said.
Although it was undoubtedly a contentious meeting on Tuesday, local officials were heartened to see such passionate engagement with the project, and urged the public to continue making their voices heard throughout the ongoing engagement phase.
“We’re just at the end of Phase 1 here, and so the opportunity will be at the public hearing where you can say exactly what you think and get it all off your chest and that informs our decision,” said Councillor Ralph Forsyth. “That’s part of the process. Nothing is contrived; nothing is pre-conceived. It’s all done with your input all the way along.”
The public open house is set for Monday, June 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Myrtle Philip Community School. There will also be online drop-in sessions with the RMOW on June 13 and 22, and a month-long engagement process, including an online questionnaire available from June 8 to July 8.
Stay up to date with the project at whistler.ca/northlands.