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Tapley's bed and breakfast rezoning shot down

Council expresses concern over volume of tourist accommodation

Concern for the resort-wide low occupancy rates is one of the reasons why council rejected an application for a small B&B in Tapley's Farm this week.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler was perhaps the most outspoken in his opposition to rezone for two new tourist beds, calling Whistler "horrendously oversupplied" in tourist accommodation.

"Is one (application) OK?" he asked his colleagues. "Would 10 applications like this be OK? 100? 1,000?"

Council's decision to reject the application was not OK with applicant Paul Fournier, who was sitting in council chambers.

"Business changes," said a disappointed Fournier this weekend when he learned of staff's plan to stop processing his application. "How are they going to predict the economic climate?

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

Five years ago Fournier submitted the application for the B&B that asked for two rooms in his four-bedroom house to be rezoned to host guests. He would use the master bedroom himself, as the owner/operator's quarters.

In a public open house in 2006, nine negative comments were received. It wasn't until this week that Fournier submitted 17 signatures of support from people around his block.

It was those negative comments from neighbours that tipped the scales for Mayor Ken Melamed.

"Nine is extraordinary," he said, though Fournier disputes that number.

Councillors Grant Lamont and Tom Thomson supported the application, pointing to the current council policy that shows Tapley's Farm can be zoned for four tourist accommodation lots.

There is just one B&B operating in the neighbourhood now.

It is one of 13 B&Bs in Whistler, offering 40 rooms, a small portion of the tourist rooms in the resort.

There is no doubt, however, that the tourist accommodation business overall is struggling, despite the near-capacity occupancy levels over the Presidents' Day weekend, Feb. 18-21. Tourism Whistler reported occupancy 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.

For the past four years winter occupancy has averaged about 52 per cent.

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

Joern Rohde, owner/operator of Cedar Springs B&B in Alpine Meadows, 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 heavily discounting rooms, effectively undercutting his regular seasonal rates.

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.

While council did not specifically address that issue, Zeidler made clear that he believes the single biggest issue in town is the sheer volume of the tourist accommodation sector.

Council also raised concerns about the length of time it took for this B&B application to be resolved.

Staff said it was waiting for those signatures of support. After waiting for five years, staff decided to resolve the file.