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Whistler's new partners

Two images come to mind of Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob and the Olympics. The first is from the meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in 2002 when Whistler council of the day finally endorsed the Olympic bid.

Two images come to mind of Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob and the Olympics. The first is from the meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in 2002 when Whistler council of the day finally endorsed the Olympic bid. Jacob was the first person to speak during a long evening of voices for and against the Games bid. He talked about what the Olympics could do for his people and his hope of seeing a First Nations athlete competing in 2010.

The second image is in a centuries-old hall in Prague on the evening of July 2, 2003, after the 2010 Olympics were awarded to Vancouver. All Canadians in Prague — and anyone who wanted to join them — toasted the day’s events, with the Czech beer flowing like B.C. rainwater. At one point in the evening Jacob stood off to the side of the hall soaking it all in, a huge glass of beer in one hand, a giant cigar in the other and an enormous, satisfied grin on his face.

A third image came to light this week with the historic three-way agreement involving Whistler, the provincial government and the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. It’s the biggest development deal in Whistler since Intrawest’s Whistler South package, which included Creekside, Kadenwood and Spring Creek. And as it soaks up virtually all remaining development rights in Whistler it is arguably more significant.

But that’s a Whistler perspective. From Gibby Jacob’s perspective the 300 acres of Crown land in Whistler the First Nations now have title to is just a small portion of their traditional territory. Getting title to the land and bed units to develop “…allows us another step off the reserve, back in our traditional lands.”

In fact, the land deal is just one of a series of commitments federal, provincial and municipal governments have made to the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. These include the First Nations cultural centre in Whistler, job training programs, Olympic development contracts and a highway interpretive program. All of these things complement or work within existing plans for Whistler, the corridor, the Olympics and British Columbia’s plans for reconciliation with First Nations.

The basic components that make up the deal — 300 acres of Crown land for the First Nations, boundary expansion for Whistler — have been known for years. And some of the details about what the Squamish and Lil’wat will do with their land, such as the residential development above Rainbow and the golf course in the Callaghan Valley, have also been discussed for some time.

Still, after three years of closed-door negotiations, there are a number of questions for Whistlerites. The first being what are First Nations’ intentions for five of their eight parcels. We know that one parcel at Function Junction is zoned industrial and that with the new highway alignment and the satellite parking lot the municipality acquired in the area a service station and related facilities are good bets. The Alpine North site above Rainbow is designated for residential development and could produce 75 single-family homes. The Callaghan golf course, in light of Chief Bill Williams’s January statement: “In every golf course there are some homes that are attached in and around for people who want to live around a golf course and we’re seeing what interest there is with that,” requires further explanation.

At present the five remaining parcels don’t have the zoning or bed units to create anything more than one single family home each — the same as several other privately owned pieces of land without development rights. Given that each party in this deal has pledged to honour Whistler’s Official Community Plan and the Whistler 2020 sustainability plan, it would appear that the status of these lands won’t change any time soon. Besides, the Squamish and Lil’wat have a lot on their plate already and can afford to be patient.

Any concerns about the Squamish and Lil’wat screwing up Whistler’s carefully conceived development plan ignores the fact we’ve already created something bigger than necessary, and made our own mistakes along the way. We don’t want to add to those mistakes, but there’s no reason to believe the motivations and abilities of the First Nations and their development partners are any different than other developers’.

The real significance of this deal lies, first, in the fact that the development rights granted the Squamish and Lil’wat are virtually the last in Whistler — at least for the foreseeable future. That impacts every other prospective developer. It also impacts Whistler’s future revenue projections and any ideas about economic diversification.

Second, the Squamish and Lil’wat are now truly as much “partners” in Whistler as Intrawest or any number of other companies. A fuller understanding of that relationship will develop over the next few years.