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Municipal staff against new B&B in Tapley’s

Low occupancy throughout resort could pave way for policy of no new tourist beds

With hotels struggling to fill their rooms this season, council could stop approvals of any new tourist beds to help existing operators.

That move isn't welcome news to Paul Fournier, a longtime Whistler homeowner who, five years ago, applied to have his home in Tapley's Farm rezoned to allow a small bed and breakfast operation.

Municipal staff is now recommending that application be turned down, partly because of the resort-wide low occupancy rates.

"Business changes," said a disappointed Fournier this weekend. "How are they going to predict the economic climate?

"The beds are already here. It's not like I'm building something new."

Fournier asked to have three rooms in his four-bedroom home rezoned for hosting guests. He would use the master bedroom himself, as the owner/operator's quarters.

Though the staff report, which council will consider at Tuesday's meeting, states there has been no evidence of neighbourhood support for the application, Fournier disagreed.

He said he has 17 signatures of support from people around his block.

Under council's current policies, Tapley's Farm can be zoned for four tourist accommodation lots. There is just one B&B operating in the neighbourhood now.

There is no doubt, however, that the tourist accommodation business is struggling, despite the near-capacity occupancy levels over the Presidents' Day weekend from Feb. 18-21. Tourism Whistler reported occupancy levels approaching 90 per cent for that period, while the overall forecast for the season is approximately three per cent over the 2008/09-winter season.

Those numbers, however, may not be translating on the ground.

Joern Rohde, owner/operator of Cedar Springs B&B in Alpine, said his February numbers are at 25 per cent overall. That's down from a typical February of 80 to 90 per cent.

"We're in our worst winter ever," he said.

"The phone's not ringing. There's nobody calling. I've heard that from other B&B's. It's not just us."

It doesn't help, he added, that the hotels in town are dumping rooms at heavy discounts, effectively undercutting his regular seasonal rates.

But whether or not a cap on more accommodation would help the situation is not clear. A new policy, under discussion through the revision of Whistler's Official Community Plan, could restrict new beds for the short-term, with a plan to reevaluate the need in five years.

Council will consider staff's recommendation to stop processing Fournier's application at Tuesday's meeting.

Also up for discussion is a change to a firearms bylaw that would limit bow hunting in Whistler and a new bylaw to ban residential campfires in the summer, except when the fire hazard rating is low. That bylaw would also ban the sale of consumer/family fireworks within the municipality.

Read the Pique on Thursday for council's decisions.