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Emerald residents weigh in on Resort Municipality of Whistler land purchase

While many are positive about restored rec access, nearby neighbour 'devastated'
PASSING THROUGH The Resort Municipality of Whistler's recently purchased property at 9561 Emerald Dr. Photo by Braden Dupuis

While many Emerald Estates residents are happy with the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) purchase of a residential lot to restore recreation access behind the neighbourhood, the deal isn't striking everyone the same way.

"It's like somebody just ran over me with a Mack truck," said George Vodarek, who lives next to the now-municipally owned property at 9561 Emerald Dr.

"We've been here for 32 years, we built this house when there was nobody here, and we've just loved the tranquility, and now you wake up and they're going to put a public trail through the neighbouring lot, and you're going to be dealing with thousands of people walking in your backyard ... it's devastating."

Access to the Crown land surrounding the neighbourhood—which includes One Duck Lake and trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as a wiffle golf course—has effectively been cut off in recent years due to private development, leaving residents frustrated.

By purchasing the $1.7 million lot, the RMOW plans to restore access—though planning for how exactly that will work is still in the very early stages, according to a municipal spokesperson. The lot currently holds a four-bedroom house that the RMOW intends to eventually use for employee housing.

"While there will be an opportunity for a neighbourhood discussion, it has not yet been planned or scheduled at this early date," the spokesperson said.

"Further, access to this area and to the trails beyond will not be available for some time. More details will be shared as they come available."

Many Emerald residents are applauding the move, including Dale Stephens, who along with Karin Kausky wrote to council to suggest a neighbourhood working group be struck to provide input on things like parking, garbage management and logistics of use.

"I think most people I've talked to here are positive," Stephens said.

"We definitely would appreciate the access to that backcountry again, One Duck and the bike trails and everything that are there. It's been pretty restricted for the last couple summers, and winters as well for snowshoeing."

There are some concerns around wildfire management with potential increased use, he added, but users of the land have been "pretty respectful" in the past.

"If it's just what was there before, I don't think there will be an influx. It will basically be the neighbourhood that will make use of it, and won't draw a whole bunch of other traffic," Stephens said.

"If it's the kickoff point to another major mountain bike trail or something then that could be an issue in the future, but near term I don't see that."

A major influx of users is exactly what Vodarek fears, pointing to issues seen on Mountainview Drive in Alpine in recent years after a trailhead was built at the road.

"There's a huge demand for access. I get it. It's just that we've been thrown under the bus. We're the ones that get to put up with the people walking through our yard," he said.

The change of use for the property is "mind boggling," he added.

"How can the muni decide that the house next door is going to be the new access trail to the backcountry?" he said.

"Like, that's completely unreasonable. It's like they're going to build a park or something right next to you, without even telling you about it, without there ever being a plan."

There was no consultation with residents before the RMOW committed to the purchase, Vodarek said.

"The only clue [was], we saw a bunch of [RMOW] people looking at the house next door a couple months ago, and I remember thinking, 'What the hell is that about?'" he said.

"But not in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that they would do something like that."

Emerald residents have been urging the RMOW to address the access issue since at least 2016 (see Pique, June 20, 2016: "Emerald residents pushing for solution to Crown land access").

The lot at 9561 Emerald Dr. is next to lands currently held by the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations, which will be transferred to the RMOW in exchange for municipal lands in Kadenwood as laid out in a 2017 memorandum of understanding.

The transfer will become official once Whistler's updated Official Community Plan is adopted later this year—which will necessitate a broader discussion about the future use of the land, said Emerald resident Johnny Mikes.

"Ownership comes with responsibility, and so it's really important that there's a really clear future for what the intent of those lands are," Mikes said.

"I think a lot of people in Emerald would like to see them left in a natural state and not developed particularly at all."

Mikes' property backs onto the Crown land, meaning he never technically lost access, but he said he's pleased to see restored access for his neighbours.

That said, many residents will no doubt have questions concerning signage, parking, garbage, fire risk and more, he posited in a letter to council, suggesting that a community meeting or workshop be held to address concerns.

"And also ... it's going to go between two homes, and so it's important that there be some well-thought-out signage so people are responsible when they're going through and not disturbing the people on either side," Mikes said.

The problem isn't with neighbourhood residents using the access, but in the large groups coming to the neighbourhood specifically for it, said Rick Clare, who lives beside the old (now-defunct) access to the lands.

"It's the people that come and park their buses and go play [wiffle] golf up there, bring their staff up in a bus of 40 people, or when WORCA comes and has 15 guys going to the bathroom in my front yard because they're going for a bike ride," Clare said.

"The average person, in their defense, doesn't realize that they're the 40th person that's gone up there that day ... I'm just kinda glad that it's not beside me anymore."

For Vodarek's part, he said at the very least he'd like to see the RMOW take the trail straight back from the access lot, providing a buffer to nearby houses, and have proper signage to keep people from stumbling off trail.

"We have the right to quiet use of our property, and they're violating that right here," he said.

"So that behooves them to at least do their best in somehow steering the crowds past the houses."

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