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Businesses anxious about their Olympic competition<

Restaurant, retail owners air concerns about temporary use permits at Monday’s public hearing

The community’s uncertainty about life during February 2010, when the world comes to Whistler for the Olympics, was tangible at the public hearing on the municipality’s proposed temporary commercial use permits (TCUPs) bylaw.

Several restaurateurs and retailers told the newly elected council Monday they understand the special needs of Olympic organizers, but they are worried the TCUPs will impact local businesses during the Games.

While only three of the 40 restaurants in the Whistler Restaurant Association have sold out their space during the Olympics, other owners are weighing their options and trying to predict visitor numbers next winter.

“One of the considerations for potentially accepting these buyouts is that during other festivals that have happened in Whistler over the past number of years, we have had some very bad experiences,” said Arthur Blank, owner of Zog’s Dogs, Moguls Coffee House and Gone Bakery.

“For example, we have free hot dogs given away right in front of Zog’s. This seems outrageous to me… We are fearful about what might happen during the Olympics, if council is not very sensitive to the potential competition with existing restaurants.”

Kevin Wallace, managing partner of Earl’s in Whistler, said one way to subdue these fears would be if the municipality only handed out a finite number of food and beverage TCUPs.

“The biggest issue that we fear as a restaurant in Whistler is… how many people are going to be coming, how many restaurants have been bought out, and how many tents there will be?” said Wallace.

“With the exception of Christmas break and spring break, February is probably one of our prime volume months. With a lot of things that are going to be in Whistler during the Olympics, there are questions whether it will be even as busy as a normal February.”

Wallace also offered to update the municipality monthly on how many restaurants have been bought out so they can make informed decisions when handing out TCUPs.

Sandy Black, an owner of eight stores, also echoed some of the restaurateurs’ concerns for his retail business. He said like any merchant in town, his business will be dramatically affected, and he is trying to figure out how to survive the Olympics.

Black pointed to one section of the bylaw that could allow VANOC to put a retail tent on the golf course driving range, kiosks up and down village stroll, or kiosks on Celebration Plaza.

“I went to the open house last week and was interested to learn that VANOC was really only interested in having a retail presence at the Olympic sites, and they would like to have a one-stop store in the village,” said Black.

“If that is the case, you should send this back to staff, add in a few words, and limit this to the Olympic sites only. If you do that, I think it will reduce the amount of angst around retail owners quite a bit.”

Black also had concerns about when VANOC could begin erecting these temporary storefronts.

“Could that happen as early as the winter of 2009? If it could, I have a big problem with that. I don’t think VANOC should have access to this marketplace until January 2010.”

A total of seven people spoke at the public hearing, although no one commented on the accommodation side of the sweeping TCUP bylaw. Council, under acting mayor Ted Milner, decided to defer third reading until a later meeting.

The bylaw could allow temporary administration offices, washrooms, first aid facilities, news media workspace, ticketing kiosks, reception areas, parking and maintenance spaces, and reception facilities, among other things, inside Whistler’s boundaries until the summer of 2010.

TCUPs could also be used to allow accommodation for Olympic-related employees and volunteers — but not tourists.

Bill Brown, manager of community planning, said a second bylaw governing how TCUPs are issued would likely come before council at their public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 13 2009.

A general list of temporary uses staff could approve, and which ones would need to go before council for approval, was shown at the municipality’s open house last week. Among the things that council has to approve were all retail and food and beverage applications in Whistler Village.

This week, Brown confirmed that Whistler Village extends from Marketplace to the Westin, including the golf course driving range, as well as Upper Village and Franz’s Trail in Creekside. Residences are not included in this area.