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Decision on sustainability consultants delayed

Council, staff divided over who would serve Whistler best Whistler council has put off choosing consultants to help draft the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan for another week.

Council, staff divided over who would serve Whistler best

Whistler council has put off choosing consultants to help draft the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan for another week.

Council was to select the consultants who would receive the $500,000 contract Monday after months of discussions about the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan (CSP) and a marathon presentation session to the public Feb. 2 where four teams vied for the chance to guide Whistler towards sustainability.

The delay stems from a division in council over the top two teams – GBH Consulting Group and the Center for Resource Management (CRM).

The proposal that went before council this week ranked GBH as the top choice of the municipal staff.

Mike Purcell, the general manager of planning and development services at the municipality, outlined several reasons for the staff's choice.

GBH is a strong synergetic team who outlined a specific public consultation process to create the CSP, he said.

GBH also won the overall public support after the four teams presented their vision of Whistler's sustainability at the conference centre two weeks ago. At that time, 122 members of the public filled out questionnaires rating each team's performance.

GBH ranked number one in every category except one, which ranked the team's economic expertise. In this area they were ranked second.

However, staff recommended to council that GBH add at least two new experts to their team who are familiar with resort economics and planning.

"I liked their process and their idea of setting up kitchen table meetings," said Councillor Ken Melamed, who was ready to support the recommendation at the meeting and choose GBH.

Councillors Dave Kirk and Stephanie Sloan were absent from Monday’s meeting.

Councillors Nick Davies and Ted Milner were hesitant to endorse GBH because they did not believe GBH was the best team for Whistler.

"I am not comforted that GBH has the experience... to address those issues within a mountain resort setting," said Davies.

He also questioned the statistics from the questionnaire survey that ranked GBH as the top team.

"I am not convinced that the statistical methodology that was applied to the survey was a statistically sound method," he said.

The CRM team is based in Denver, Colorado. Some of its key members were the planners and visionaries who helped build present-day Whistler.

"I think we're tossing out the CRM professionalism just because they have American accents," Milner said.

Milner also suggested Whistler was looking for fresh thinking on all three legs of the sustainability stool – social, economic and environmental sustainability – and GBH offered ideas only on environmental sustainability.

One of the big selling points for GBH is that they are primarily made up of Canadians, with a head office in Victoria.

"GBH had the Canadian perspective and I think it's pretty clear that the American resorts, while they are successful on some levels, are dependent on market values," said Melamed.

"I think (CRM) come from the old school where growth is the answer to a successful resort," he added.

But Davies said describing CRM as "old school" suggests there is cronyism in the system because the CRM top team members are well known in the local community.

"CRM has a well developed record of expertise and skills sets," he said.

Davies said the fundamental issue for the consultants, in his view, was addressed in Caroline Lamont’s feature story in last week’s issue of Pique.

Neither Davies nor Milner supported the staff's recommendations to endorse GBH as the consultant team.

Councillor Kristi Wells also chose not to support staff's recommendation but not because her vote was with CRM.

"Overall I was disappointed with all the teams," she said. "I didn't find their presentations effective."

Wells suggested that the sustainability plan be formed "in house" at the municipality with guidance from certain individual consultants.

Mayor Hugh O'Reilly also supported delaying a decision while staff meet with the consultants.

"I don't think there's one here that is clearly a winner," he said.

O’Reilly and Milner both missed the consultants’ presentations on Feb. 2 because they were in New York attending the World Economic Forum. However, both had viewed video tapes of the presentations.

The extension was approved amid concerns from the public that the timeframe to create the CSP is too tight.

"Six months is way too short to achieve the goals of Whistler! Let's not sacrifice the outcome to ram through a good project in too short a period!" wrote one concerned citizen.

Public concerns about the process were recorded on the back of the questionnaires that were handed out when all four team's made presentations.

With this in mind, council held off the decision until its regular council meeting on Monday, Feb. 18.

"When I see councillors divided at this stage, ... (I'm) concerned," said Jim Godfrey, the municipal administrator.

Although there is a tight timeframe to get the CSP in place, choosing the right team is an important first stage in the process.

This new plan will be updating the 1993 Comprehensive Development Plan and will be addressing things like the ultimate size of the resort, future land use and employee housing.

Davies said: "This is one of the most important decisions we're going to face in a long time."