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illage property owners fight for redevelopment rights

Growth management strategy, bed unit cap, village character are councillors’ concerns

Village property owners are getting worried about the proposed changes to the commercial core zone which will effectively limit their opportunities for redevelopment and expansion.

Several letters to council this week expressed concern about the zoning amendment bylaw which would essentially freeze all properties at their current size, thereby taking away development rights allowed within the current zoning.

A letter from Robert Swift of the strata council of Tantalus Lodge explained the dilemma for property owners in that lodge.

He said the lodge, which is 25 years old, is in need of significant repairs and restoration if it is to continue to complement the village.

Property owners would like to redevelop the lodge but at no out-of-pocket cost to them.

"This probably means that the redevelopment would require sufficient additional space to allow additional units to be sold by the developer of the project to permit the recovery of the construction costs together with a reasonable profit to the developer," wrote Swift.

Currently the Tantalus Lodge has a floor space ratio 0.65. Before redevelopment in the CC1 was frozen, the Tantalus – like all buildings in the CC1 zone – could have grown to a floor space ratio of 3.5.

Many of the properties in the CC1 zone, which stretches from the Tantalus Lodge in the south to Village Gate Boulevard on the north and Blackcomb Way on the east, with a few exceptions, are not built to their current allowable size.

Of the 30 buildings in the area, only a handful, such as the Pan Pacific and the Sundial Hotel, are even close to their maximum development potential.

"The rezoning will have no impact on other properties in the CC1 zone that are currently developed to as high as a 3.25 or 3.50 FSR, but will dramatically affect, and effectively prevent, the necessary redevelopment of Tantalus," wrote Swift.

As such, the Tantalus strata asked to be excluded from the rezoning process.

The Tantalus Lodge strata isn’t the only property that’s concerned with the proposed amendment.

Dennis Hilton, strata council chair for the Timberline Lodge, also expressed concerns and asked that the lodge not be included in the rezoning process or be grandfathered under the existing CC1 bylaw.

"Doing so will allow us to renovate and redevelop our property in a manner that will not only create a viable business model but will also help our owners finance the renovations required for the property," wrote Hilton.

"We are asking for the RMOW’s support for the transformation of the Timberline Lodge from its current state – a lump of coal – into a diamond that we envision will be a positive tourism amenity in Whistler Village."

The CC1 zoning amendment has been designed so that the municipality can preserve the integrity of the village by protecting its size, its view corridors, and sunlight reaching the streets, among other things.

At Monday’s council meeting, Mike Kirkegaard, the manager of community and sustainability planning, gave an update on the zoning amendment process.

Staff has met with a number of property owners in the CC1 and listened to the concerns expressed at a public open house at the end of June.

"I don’t mind the go-slow process as long as we’re moving forward," said Councillor Ken Melamed.

He said the heart of the matter for him is controlling growth in the village.

"There will never be an end to people wanting to add more," he said.

"Our growth management strategy goes out the window if we don’t have some kind of control."

He also pointed out that Whistler’s longstanding magic bed cap number is 52,500 units. It’s the number that’s always been used to define buildout in the resort.

Any new redevelopment in the CC1 that brings more commercial accommodation units on the market will not be accounted for in the 52,500 bed cap.

Councillor Gordon McKeever added that the village cannot keep growing at 15 per cent a year.

"It would destroy the character of the village."

And yet, he recognized the challenges facing small hotels as they complete with bigger businesses.

Rather than grow their way out the problem he said they all have to work together to come up with a business model that’s feasible.

He challenged the businesses to form a co-op and work together to solve the problem.

Councillor Kristi Wells was reassured on Monday night that any blanket rezoning of the CC1 will also include a policy whereby property owners can come forward and apply for redevelopment of their property in the future.

Wells said the municipality must give the property owners the tools to work with so that they’ll want to reinvest and stay economically viable.

"This is a tool they’ve always had," she said.

"This is going to be a tough pill to swallow."

Indeed, Mike Hawes, a strata agent with the Fitzsimmons Strata Corporation, highlighted the impact of this amendment in a letter to council.

"An arbitrary decision to freeze the existing density of the building is prejudicial to the rights of the owners who purchased in the building with the understanding that there were additional development rights," he wrote.

"The removal of these rights will seriously impact on the value of each owner’s investment."

Staff will continue to work with property owners in the CC1 before the zoning amendment comes before council for approval.