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Municipal staff, tennis players look for more

Tennis players and owner Holborn to meet for discussion of club’s future

Local tennis players will have their say on the future of the new tennis facility in Whistler.

That was the message from council after a plea from members of the Whistler Valley Tennis Club that they had insufficient time to review an independent report to council and begin discussions with the developer of the tennis club site.

"The dialogue hasn’t even started as far as we’re concerned," said committee member Garry Watson in a presentation to council. "The need now, we’re suggesting, is more time."

Council agreed and while they authorized staff to continue processing the development application, they held off on approving a public open house until the two sides can discuss options and reach some common ground.

The two sides appear to be at odds.

The developer is the Holborn Group, a company that bought the Park Georgia land, complete with the Whistler Racquet Club, in 2002. The land is zoned for a 450-room, nine-storey hotel and spa as per a 15-year-old development agreement. That deal also called for the creation of "world class" tennis facilities, along with the development rights for the Montebello town homes and the hotel.

Jimmy Yap of the Holborn Group explained again to council on Tuesday that they are asking for a downzoning of the land, from the large hotel to townhouses and condos. They will be giving up bed units associated with the site in the downzoning as well as committing to $7 million in improvements to the tennis club, a donation of wetlands, and building a seniors housing complex on site.

Holborn’s plans include a tennis facility with five indoor courts and three outdoor courts, expanded gym space, a members’ lounge and viewing area.

But municipal staff agree the project can deliver more, especially in light of the fact that as Park Georgia was getting zoning rights for the Montebello town homes in exchange for summer amenities in 1989, Nicklaus North was approved as well as the CP (Chateau) Hotel golf course. Both of those proposals delivered sizable community amenities; Park Georgia did not deliver all of its promises.

"This project can still give a little bit more in order to be equitable with the previous projects," said Bill Brown, manager of current planning.

In order to determine how much more, the municipality had asked for a legal opinion on the rezoning at is relates to the original deal. Specifically they were looking to see if the developer had any obligation to provide a world-class facility.

Councillor Caroline Lamont, who was a planner a municipal hall at the time the bylaw was drafted, took responsibility for the wording of the original bylaw, which was under legal scrutiny.

"I’m guilty of not writing ‘world class’ in the zoning bylaw 15 years ago," she said.

Council’s legal opinion said Brown came back neutral, meaning council is not bound by any decisions by previous councils. Council can rezone the site at its will with no constraints.

Holborn’s legal opinion determined that the company has no obligation to deliver or maintain "world class" facilities. It is on this foundation that the developer and the tennis community, who have had a wary relationship to date, will meet to discuss options. The Whistler Valley Tennis Club is eager to get to work.

"We have already waited over 17 years for the developer to deliver on the original promise of an excellent facility and one that is affordable for the local community," wrote the club committee in a submission to council. "The tennis playing community would like to see a new facility as soon as possible."

The independent consultants’ report to council detailed their recommendations. They called for five indoor courts and five outdoor courts, which would allow Whistler to hold local and provincial level tournaments.

Dan Hill of PKF Consulting also said the facility should have quality amenities, such as an expanded fitness area, a members’ lounge and a viewing area to watch tournaments.

Hill said it would take a few years for the club to break even and while it’s never going to be a huge moneymaker, it won’t be a white elephant either. In fact, he said, the club could be a real asset to Whistler.

Members of the tennis club agree.

"We have a lot of ideas about revenue," said committee member John Konig. "We can have a very successful club that won’t be a financial burden."

Club members are also concerned, however, about the long-term governance of the club.

This issue, among others, will likely be addressed with the developer in the weeks to come.