I recently wrote a letter to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden (about the Variance Board process). She replied almost immediately and said she understood my frustration and would look into improving the Variance Board process. Thank you to her. Here is a copy of the letter I wrote. I hope it will help others who face the Variance Board in the future:
Re: Accountability and improvements to the Variance Board process
I am writing to tell you about my recent experience with the Board of Variance and to suggest some improvements to the process.
I recently attended a Variance Board meeting (July 31, 2012) in order to oppose a series of setback and height variations. A purchaser of a nearby vacant waterfront lot wanted to build a big home on a too-small footprint. They claimed undue hardship (Riparian regulations) even though they knew about the law and setbacks before they bought the land. The Board granted their request.
Because the law (which I spent hours researching) appeared to be in my favour, I was not only surprised by the outcome, but frustrated by the process.
As a part-time Whistler resident and lawyer I am writing to you to provide some ideas about how the variance process could be improved to ensure more predictability and confidence in the system. I am hoping that my experiences can help municipal council, the Variance Board, the Planning Committee and those who face the Whistler variance and planning processes in the future.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Provide more than just a handful of neighbours with the Notice of Application. Provide more time to reply and write it in more simple language so that neighbours understand exactly what is being requested and how it impacts them.
2. Permit individuals to write comments about the application anonymously, so as to avoid bad feelings between neighbours. Perhaps the comments or positions could be summarized for the Board.
3. Ensure all submissions are received by the Board at least three days in advance so members have time to read and absorb them. Perhaps provide copies to participants in the hearing.
4. Provide direction to the Variance Board to what is considered a "minor" variance.
5. Provide the Board, applicants and neighbours with the factors the board considers when determining "undue hardship".
6. Define the precise role of the Variance Board, particularly when it comes to overriding the work of council and honouring the intent of the bylaws.
7. Ensure that the Board members do not find themselves in a conflict of interest by encouraging them to step down if they have a personal relationship that they think might compromise their decision-making ability or give the appearance of bias.
8. Ask Board members to write down their reasoning and place it on file for future applicants as quasi-precedents. This information would also keep municipal planners and Council aware of how the Board is interpreting the law.
9. Have the Board members make their decision outside the hearing room in private. This prevents pressure on Board members as individuals and allows the members to discuss the issues fully, in their own time and come to a consensus while not in a pressure-filled hearing room.
Having said all this I believe that a better process for bylaw adjustments is a full conversation with interested parties about the impact (long and short term) of the Application and come to a mutual compromise that neighbours can live with. The process I use for Corporate Circles (a restorative way to resolve corporate conflict) is one such process.
On a more personal note I need to say this: When all your neighbours beg you to "not rock the boat" what they likely mean is this: "I am too scared to stand up for my rights and I am afraid that if you do so, people will treat both you and me badly."
And this much is true, sadly.
Maureen F Fitzgerald
Farmers' Market shopping tips
This is an excerpt from the Bon Appetit magazine dated August, 2012. It is great advice, and personally I would appreciate everyone trying to follow it, as I've just cut up my peach purchase with half of them bruised from everyone squeezing them for softness.
"1. ...Where do you get vegetables that go beyond garden variety? What's more, the taste is exceptionally better (than the supermarket). So don't hassle the farmer about price. 2. We all want beautiful corn, tomatoes, and peaches, but that doesn't give you the right to shuck, squeeze, and poke every single one in search of perfections. 3. When it comes to plastic, let me just say: Bring your own %*)@ bags. 4. Leave the dog at home. 5. Each visit, buy one ingredient you're unfamiliar with....it'll make you a better cook. 7. To shop like a chef, go right when the market opens. You'll have your pick of produce. Bargain hunters go 30 minutes before closing, when many stands offer discounts. 8. I love free (samples), too, but they're SAMPLES, not meals. Leave some for others. 9. ...Get to know your farmers. You'll feel more connected to your food. 10. Want to be a farmer's best friend? Bring small bills and change."
How to celebrate life
With Crankworx 2012 (here), I've been reflecting on what a difference a year can make. This time last year my son, Nick, was having his body blasted with chemotherapy and total body irradiation in preparation for an autologous stem cell transplant on August 9th. The transplant was to save his life by ridding his body of the rare and high-risk leukemia he was diagnosed with just four months prior.
When diagnosed, Nick was preparing to graduate from Whistler Secondary and spending his last summer before university doing what he loves best: riding and racing his downhill mountain bike. Instead, he was thrust into the world of cancer-sickness, hospital admissions, isolation wards, invasive tests, toxic drugs and radiation. Who could have known that this mountain bike season, less than 12 months post-transplant, Nick would be not just riding his bike but racing and achieving amazing results? Those results include two podium finishes in the Elite Men category – 1st at the Silverstar B.C. Cup and 3rd at Panorama in the Canada Cup race.
I had been wondering how to mark the first anniversary of Nick's successful transplant — Nick wants to leave it all behind and thankfully it looks like he can — but I felt the need to acknowledge the milestone somehow. After a chat with Stacey while shopping in Nester's, I realized I had an opportunity to celebrate by offering up the story of Nick's amazing recovery as an inspiration to the (way too many) young people diagnosed with cancer and their families. Maybe his story reminds others to hold onto hope and faith.
As a parent you want to see your children follow their dreams and live their lives pursuing their passions free from pain, suffering and tragedy. Life doesn't always work out that way but with courage and hope people can overcome all kinds of adversity. After the initial shock of diagnosis, my son set his sights on getting back on his bike and back to his life. He kept sight of that carrot at the end of what was a long and dark tunnel. I really believe that hope and determination to get better played a huge role in his recovery.
Beyond hope and determination were many other factors that contributed to where my son is today. So another way I am going to celebrate is by remembering how lucky I feel and how deeply thankful I am to everything and everyone that contributed to Nick's incredible recovery. Nick is lucky to live where there is access to world-class and leading-edge cancer treatment administered in a hospital recognized as one of the best in the world: BC Children's Hospital.
Many generous people donate in a myriad of ways to make the care he and others receive there possible. The team at BCCH is knowledgeable, dedicated and supportive in the amazing care they provide for so many young people. All of this would not have made a difference however, without the generous life-giving bone marrow donation from an anonymous donor. Nick and our family made it through the past year thanks to loving support from a caring community of health care providers, family and friends who were there to lean on, take care of Nick's brother and sister, watch the dogs, make a meal, speak wise words or just listen, share tears or even a laugh, and too many other kind gestures to name.
Over the coming days of Crankworx, I'll be the mom with tears of joy in my eyes watching Nick ride full-throttle down the mountain (yes... fear will grip me too!) back again alongside his younger brother Xander and fellow downhill racers doing what he loves. I really can't think of a better way to celebrate except to wish for every other parent to be so lucky.
Small change could make big difference
I have been stuck more than once trying to make the left turn at the light of Village Gate Boulevard/Northlands Boulevard coming from Whistler Way.
The pedestrian's crossing on Village Gate Boulevard on the side of the Inukshuk is always busy and prevents cars from turning until the lights become yellow and then two or three vehicles will rush to make the turn, or worse they will make their left turn between one or two groups of pedestrians crossing the street. Wouldn't it make sense to remove the crossing from that one side to have all pedestrians crossing only from the other side, which has a lot less car traffic turning left to go towards the police station.
At peak times (usually Sunday afternoons) it backs up the cars on Whistler Way waiting to access the highway, around the conference centre all the way to White Spot restaurant.
I don't know... it just seems to me that if we removed the crossing on that side the traffic at the light would be a lot smoother and safer
Our safe community
To my shock and disappointment, I woke on Saturday morning to find that my daughter's bike was stolen from our deck. I have to admit that we are to blame for this because we were dumb enough to leave our bike on the deck, and dumb enough to believe that no one would actually want our bikes.
This particular bike was not new. We got it at the bike swap in the spring and it was a better quality than your average bike. Still, we are not avid mountain bikers and really just use our bikes to enjoy the valley trails and to get to the lakes. The kids will bike to school in the spring and fall and I occasionally will bike to work in the summer. But the most heartbreaking part of it all is that my daughter loved this bike!
We are your average Whistler household working hard to make ends meet in this community that we love so much. I am saddened that we were the victim of this kind of theft and the fact that we now need to find the money to buy my daughter a new bike with only a few weeks left in the summer and with plans to take this bike on a few more trips as a family.
I understand that the chances are that this was not the action of a local or someone with a vested interest in this community. Possibly it was the action of those who are desperate to make ends meet, or those who parachute into Whistler for the sole purpose of preying on the weaknesses of a trusting community. No matter what the reason, this kind of action puts us all on guard.
We have definitely learned a valuable lesson and it is a reminder to us that no matter how safe we feel we still need to protect our families as we would in any other location in the world.
Whistler is an "open" community and I say this because we welcome thousands of visitors year-round, and as such, we probably need to be even more cautious. Strangers to our community are the norm for us, a daily occurrence, whereas other communities would never see the same amount of visitors. I try to tell my kids to not talk to strangers, yet it is hard to explain when I will stop to help a stranger who looks lost in the village.
Do not get me wrong, the vast majority of visitors to Whistler are exactly like us, with the same values, and we welcome them to our community. It is the minority that is always the challenge.
For me, this bout of bad luck is a simple reminder that even in a "safe community" it does not mean you can leave your front door open and expect not to be robbed.
Thanks for Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival
I would like to write a short note in recognition of one of our fine citizen, Stephen Vogler.
It has been my privilege to have been involved with Stephen in his efforts to get his "Saturday at the Point" artist run collective. The idea was to use the old hostel site to foster a sense of artistic endeavour in the valley.
Stephen has been tireless in his drive to get this thing going and last night (the Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival, Aug. 11) was a roaring success. There were workshops for children, accompanied by enthusiastic scissor-and-glue gun-wielding parents, acoustic music played by Michael Faiella, painting and photography adorning the reworked walls of the "heritage" building along with fresh healthy food served up by Mr. V and his quietly, hard-working wife Peggy.
The evening included a session of improv-comedy orchestrated by Aude Ray, as well as a play written, of course, by Stephen and performed under the Perseid meteor shower filled night sky on the dock floating in front of the hostel. Music was tastefully included in the production by Simon Striblings extremely accomplished hot swing band.
As if that weren't enough the evening concluded with a session in the old hostel with the swing band kickin' it HARD and everyone dancing.
Stephen's enthusiasm is infectious — he is clearly not interested in making any money (I watched as one of the cast of the play insisted on paying for her admission — the princely sum of $18.00!). The sense of positive energy and a real swingin' good time is owed to Stephen Vogler.
I am happy to have been involved in what we all hope will have been the first of many of these events to come. Thanks, Stephen
BMX for everyone
On Aug. 8th, Pemberton BMX held its second race of the summer and it was a great evening of racing for everyone that attended.
I am writing this, to thank everyone that made it possible. It's been a group effort with many people volunteering their time to make the PBMX dream a reality.
Let me introduce you to some of the key people in the community that have been instrumental to this endeavour. Our PBMX Board: Jessica Turner, Lara Wall, Graham Turner, Ernesto Cruz, Dan Wall and Turner Montgomery. The Track Build & Maintenence key volunteers: Jeff Ihaksi, David Traynor Steve Petrie, Graeme Harris, Nelson Jenson, Brett Milner, Jack Hurtubise, Sean Holmes, Gary Martin and all the moms / wives that provide us the time. I would also like to thank Cycling BC, Flow Irrigation, CME, RONA, G.Harris Contracting, Bike Co, Pemberton Valley Supermarket, Toad Hall, Mount Currie Coffee Co., Mile One, Vans, Troy Lee Designs and Vicki from Squamish BMX.
We can't do this alone if we want to grow. Please get involved and come out to our Wednesday track night. BMX Racing is for everyone in the whole family.
The next event PBMX Camp is Aug. 26th, PBMX Race #3 Sept 12th.
See you on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Find us here: https://www.facebook.com/PembertonBMX
Lost watch returned
A few weeks ago I was at Tommy Africa's 80s Night when I lost a watch that my parents had given me for a graduation present a few years ago.
The watch had significant monetary and sentimental value to me, and I was heartbroken when I thought I would never see it again. In the unlikely event that someone had turned my watch in, I contacted Michael Jamieson, the manager of Tommy's.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Michael and his staff for going to such great lengths (including multiple phone updates, contacting his off-duty staff, and searching the floor of the bar) to locate my watch. It was because of this diligence that my watch was found and returned to me.
In this day and age, it is great to meet people who have been able to maintain a true sense of honesty and integrity. It is very much appreciated.