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No request to VANOC for extension of arena deadline

Council votes 4 to 3 against asking for six more months to make decision

A request from a Whistler councillor to buy more time on the Paralympic arena decision has been shot down, at least for now.

While three members of council voted in favour of Councillor Kristi Wells’ request to ask the Vancouver Organizing Committee to extend the Sept. 30 arena deadline by six months, the remaining four members, including the mayor, did not agree to it.

And so, by the end of the month council must either accept $20 million from VANOC and commit to building an arena, which staff has projected could cost triple that figure if built in the village. Or negotiate for $8 million from VANOC and build a second ice sheet at Meadow Park.

Councillor Nick Davies was first to voice opposition to the request. He said he is prepared to discuss the possibility of an extension but not in the manner it was brought forward at Tuesday’s meeting.

"This is far too serious a decision to simply dump on the agenda at the last minute," said Davies.

Wells made a notice of motion for her request at the beginning of the council meeting. Without any objections from council it was added to the end of Tuesday’s agenda under Other Business. By the time council considered the request it was past midnight, at the end of an almost six-hour council meeting.

Councillor Ken Melamed said Wells was being a bit premature and he asked her to wait one more meeting for a decision. The arena report, along with a recommendation from staff, will be on the Sept. 19 agenda. If the results from a recent public open house indicate that the majority of the community supports staff’s recommendation to forgo building an arena and to take the $8 million, an extension may not be necessary he said.

"I think you’re jumping the gun by two weeks because it may be moot," said Melamed.

But Wells explained her reasons for bringing the request forward earlier. Time is running out she said. Whistler has promised VANOC a decision by the end of the month. If they ask for an extension at the next meeting and VANOC doesn’t agree to it, they will be left in a difficult situation.

"What if they say ‘no’?" she asked. "Technically we have to protect ourselves."

Councillors Marianne Wade and Gordon McKeever supported Wells in her efforts to extend the Paralympic arena decision past the Sept. 30 deadline.

Councillor Caroline Lamont was willing to support her request too but she did not think the decision would take another six months.

"I would like the question (of an extension) to be asked," said Lamont, adding that she was willing to support it on the condition that the six-month timeframe be removed.

In the end Wells said six months was not unreasonable and did not amend her motion.

Council will now be expected to make a decision on the arena at the Sept. 19 council meeting.

In the meantime, Davies has made a notice of motion for the next meeting to address this topic of adding late items to the agenda.

His motion will call for any late items to be restricted to minor housekeeping matters or items of a non-contentious matter.