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Hotel expansion plans fail in 4-3 vote

Whistler must find another way to help properties reinvest

Wary of setting a precedent of increasing the size of existing village hotels, Mayor Hugh O’Reilly cast the tie-breaking vote on Monday night against expansion plans for a village property.

The added development of 10 townhouses and 19 hotel rooms at the Whistler Village Resort would have helped pay for the renovations to the hotel, which was built more than 20 years ago.

O’Reilly called that formula for revitalization of hotel properties "a slippery slope."

"We built the village, now we’re starting to learn about how… (to) reinvest," he said after the meeting.

"I don’t think we’re very far down the road in understanding how all that’s going to work in the future so I think that it’s something we want to do very, very cautiously."

Former councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has spoken out against increasing hotel sizes in the village, praised council’s decision.

"They made the right decision, at least a majority of them did. It’s good news," she said.

"If they had approved that project, you can bet that many, many other property owners in the village would have been lined up for the same kinds of concessions. And we would have embarked on an ad hoc redesign of the village, so it’s a very good decision."

The plans for the Whistler Village Resort (formerly known as the Delta Whistler Resort) included an expansion of 39,000 square feet.

Developers were looking to build 10 townhouses in the hotel’s courtyard, which is the current location of the hotel’s rarely used tennis courts.

The bulk of the expansion, however, would be in an eight-storey addition on the corner of the hotel opposite the Whistler Village Gondola building and the Westin Resort and Spa. Developers proposed building 19 new hotel units in this prime village location.

The proposal sparked a familiar debate at the council table – that is, essentially giving hotels more development rights in exchange for upgrades.

Councillor Ken Melamed voiced his objections first on Monday night, calling on council to nip proposals such as the Whistler Village Resort’s in the bud.

"Properties in Whistler Village need to budget for their rejuvenation… over time," he said.

Developers need to save for their capital improvements and not expect a hand out from the local government in the form of added hotel rooms, he added.

Councillor Kristi Wells balked at that suggestion.

She said property owners in the village have expected to increase their density over time. She called it an "anticipated tool" which is written directly into the existing zoning.

Under the original zoning of the Commercial Core 1 zone (CC1 zone), which stretches from the Tantalus Lodge in the south to Village Gate Boulevard on the north and Blackcomb Way to the east, properties are technically allowed to build out to a set maximum density.

Most properties however are built to significantly less than the maximum density permitted by the zoning.

"We aren’t granting rights," explained Wells.

"The rights are already there with the zoning."

Melamed doesn’t see it the same way. Despite the wording of the bylaw, the intention was never to allow each property in the CC1 to expand to its maximum size. The goal was always to protect view corridors, sunlight reaching the streets and the look and feel of a village resort, not an urban centre.

The municipality is now reviewing its policy in the CC1 zone.

Hotels in the zone have been frozen at their current density while the municipality develops this new policy.

The expansion plans for the Whistler Village Resort, however, were already in the works at municipal hall when council took on the review. As such, it was allowed to proceed separately.

Councillor Caroline Lamont voted against the proposal because she wanted the CC1 policy developed concurrently with the Whistler Village Resort’s application. She explained she was just being consistent in her vote against the plans.

"Our village is our jewel," she said simply.

Councillor Nick Davies countered that the village is also the jewel of the people who have invested millions and millions of dollars into it.

Developers will start to look elsewhere if the municipality discourages investment such as the one proposed by the hotel owners, he said.

"This developer has bent over backwards," he added, working with staff and the Advisory Design Panel to come up with a workable solution.

With Councillor Marianne Wade voting alongside Wells and Davies, and Councillor Gordon McKeever voting with Melamed and Lamont, Mayor Hugh O’Reilly cast the tie-breaking vote.

His major sticking point was the plan to put 10 townhouses in the hotel’s courtyard, which he said just didn’t make sense to him.

The hotel’s expansion plans are just part of a large scale phased renovation of the property, which is already underway.