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Lot 1/9 plans clarified, but not all satisfied

Meeting marks last opportunity for public discussion before construction begins this month

Celebration Plaza’s public park and amphitheatre will be available to the public after the Winter Games wrap up in 2010.

That was one main points stressed by organizers of the community information update on Lot 1/9, held Thursday, April 24, which saw approximately 90 people come out to learn more specifics about the development.

“The site is generally not going to be available to the public until after the Games, because construction will take place in 2008 and 2009 and then there is another phase of development that occurs in 2010 after the Games,” said Martin Pardoe, manager of parks planning with the municipality.

“When that phase is complete, towards the end of 2010, the site will then be available to the public.”

The information update was called earlier this month when members of the public, spearheaded by activist organization Whistler Watch, presented a petition to council opposing deforestation of the last remaining undeveloped parcel in the village. The petition had over 800 signatures but drew the ire of council members over inaccuracies in the preamble.

Thursday’s peaceful meeting also marked one of the last opportunities members of the public had to talk with municipal officials and council about the Celebration Plaza development before construction starts this month on the four-acre area bordered by Blackcomb Way, the Village Stroll and Marketplace Lodge.

“We were please with the turnout and the wide variety of comments that came from people,” said Parode.

“Most of the comments I received from people were about understanding what is going to be on the site and when it is going to be available to the public.”

The information update, held in the new public library’s community room, had approximately 10 colourful storyboards arranged in a circle describing how the project will look in the next few years.

In the centre of the room, municipal staff had arranged a binder with comments from a public meeting held in 2006 on what to do in the area, which helped stress their point that the municipality has gone through a two-year public consultation process on the project to get to this stage.

Councillor Bob Lorriman said what surprised him was about five people he talked to that afternoon thought property taxes were being spent on the development.

“It is the hotel tax not the property tax that is going into it,” explained Lorriman.

“I was kind of surprised. I thought most people understood that, so I was happy to get the message out.”

Lorriman added that council has learned several lessons following the Lot 1/9 planning stage.

“It is a learning curve. We have to make sure that people understand what it is that we are doing, and certainly a lot of people did, but there is a very vocal group that didn’t understand what was going on,” he said.

“I think from a public input process, I think we are comfortable with what we have done. It has been expensive, it has been painful, and time consuming, but we’ve done it.”

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler added he anticipates more difficulties with the development as it is built over the next few years.

“I think it is going to be shocking for people when they see this lot with the bulk of the trees removed, and I am anticipating that there is going to be quite a bit of backlash,” said Zeidler.

“I think they will initially be shocked, and then I think they will begin to understand that in a year and a half, the Olympics are actually going to be in Whistler,” he said, adding that as the lots are further developed into the vision of a non-commercial arts, culture and heritage gathering space, he personally believes that the community will be happy with the addition.

During the meeting, Zeidler also expressed his understanding to a number of people campaigning for the trees that the campaign happened too late in the planning process.

“One of the most important things in a campaign is that it has to have some good potential for being winnable, and you’ve got to get involved in a campaign like that in a timeframe where you can accomplish something,” he said.

“With Lot 1/9, not only was that that obtained by the municipality many years ago… they were intended from day one to be developed,” he said.

Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that she believes the municipality has responded to public concerns over the trees.

“My recollection is the first plans indicated all the trees were coming down, so now there is at least a clump of them that is going to be saved,” she said.

Artistic renderings of the future site show a strip of trees along Blackcomb Way. Over the three phases of the project, the configuration of the trees will change, but eventually, only the east side of that strip will have trees. Of those trees, a large proportion will be re-planted native species.

Trees retained will be protected prior to site clearing, following a hazard assessment. Trees cut down will be reused in the Celebration Plaza development, composted or sold.

Municipal staff is currently determining the extent of a safe and viable tree retention area, taking into account tree age and health, wind loading, roof elevation and drainage conditions, among other factors.

About $11.2 million has been budgeted for the first phase of the Lot 1/9 development, which will include site preparation, infrastructure and site servicing, forest retention, a utility building, federal Live Sites recognition, performance infrastructure, amphitheatre seeing for 3,000 people, terracing and surfacing. This phase stretches from June to October 2009.

Of that budget, $5 million will come from the federal Live Sites program, $3 million from VANOC and $3.2 million from the four per cent hotel tax the municipality now receives.

The next leg of the development, completed by November 2010, will cost about $2.4 million, paid for entirely by the four per cent hotel tax.

During the Olympic Games, the Celebration Plaza will be the stage for nightly medal ceremonies and concerts, as well as the closing ceremony for the Paralympic Winter Games.

After the Games finish in March 2010, the area will be transformed into a public open space with a children’s play area, tiered seating and large grassy area. Plans also include installing a seasonal ice-skating amenity and Neighbourhood of Nations (see related story). Post-Games construction budgets have not yet been finalized.