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Lil'wat development at Function Junction gets the go-ahead

Sidewalks for some Function streets to be installed spring 2018
functional future A design of the new Lil'wat development slated for Function Junction. image courtesy of the resort municipality of whistler

A long-awaited development at Function Junction is set to move forward after receiving council's approval.

At its Oct. 3 meeting, council voted to issue a development permit for a proposed subdivision and master-planned development adjacent to Highway 99 just west of Alpha Lake Road in Whistler's light industrial neighbourhood.

The lands are owned by the Lil'wat Nation through the Legacy Land Agreement of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Plans for the 2.15-hectare site include a gas station and three mixed-use buildings containing office and commercial space, as well as 18 units of employee housing.

The project has been in the works since about 2010, when the Lil'wat bought the Squamish Nation's stake in the lands, explained Kerry Mehaffey, CEO of the Lil'wat Business Group.

"It's been a priority project for us for a number of years, and it's a massive opportunity for us to generate some revenue and create some new employment opportunities for people from the community," he said.

"We've had some interest in it, definitely," Mehaffey said, adding that tender documents will be sent out for site work this fall and work will begin as soon as possible.

The gas station will likely open in late 2019 or 2020.

A 20-metre tree buffer will be maintained between the development and the highway.

The plans also include some big revisions to Alpha Lake Road near Highway 99, including realigning Lynham Road to create a new four-way intersection, widening Alpha Lake Road to include a dedicated left-turn lane and a second eastbound through lane towards the highway, and adding a second northbound through lane and eastbound turn lane at the Highway 99 and Alpha Lake Road intersection.

The development will also include a paved trail connecting to existing crosswalks at the highway.

The roadwork will be paid for by the developer.

Councillor Jack Crompton asked senior planner Melissa Laidlaw after her presentation if any other options had been considered for getting in and out of the site.

"Well they need to access off of Alpha Lake Road, and the road access has to be a certain distance away from the intersection of the highway," Laidlaw replied, adding that a full traffic-impact study for the project was completed this summer.

"I really like everything about it except the traffic access," said Coun. Steve Anderson.

"I think it's going to get really, really busy there, and I would have a lot of questions for the traffic expert who was hired to put this one forward."

A proposal for a freestanding sign for the gas station located on the highway was removed from the development permit application by the applicant, and will be considered separately at a future council meeting — a fact Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was thankful for.

"I'm not going to be able to support that," she said.

"There's a whole myriad of problems with allowing a business sign on the highway and how that will act as a precedent for all kinds of other businesses in Function and elsewhere, so I'm glad we don't have to have that thorny discussion tonight."

Plans for the site look nice and will provide some needed employee housing, said Harvey Lim, owner of Art Junction on Millar Creek Road in Function Junction, just across the tracks from the new development.

The main concern for stakeholders in the area remains around pedestrian safety — something Function business owners have lobbied for for years.

"Obviously they need to address the accessibility for the pedestrians and everything into Function, and they could use this as a sort of a spearhead to get some (things) done down here properly for sidewalks and safety," Lim said.

By the sounds of it, the lobbying has paid off.

After the Oct. 3 meeting, Wilhelm-Morden confirmed that sidewalks for some Function streets will be included in the 2018 budget process, and will hopefully be installed next spring.

The sidewalk strategy was originally going to be bundled into a larger master planning project for Function, Nesters Crossing and Mons, but the mayor said she felt it couldn't wait that long.

"(That is) such a big project it keeps getting pushed back and pushed back, and so I said to staff, 'We've got to do something about the sidewalks down there, it's a safety issue,'" she said.

"We could have just gone ahead this fall and put in some asphalt kind of divided sidewalks in certain locations in Function, but we thought it would be better to do it in the spring when we could put conduit underneath for future street lighting along the same way."