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Tennis courts damaged by developer

Club lands at the centre of concern over bed units

A bid to build temporary employee housing near the Whistler Racquet Club left three of the facility's outdoor courts damaged, the RMOW confirmed in an email this week.

The damage was the result of the installation of a crane before the Games, as developer Alvaro Ponce de Leon attempted to drum up support for the Whistler Workforce temporary housing project. The project would have included up to 420 beds for resort employees. The venture failed with a lack of interest on the part of local businesses, and the crane was removed before the start of the Games in February.

Ponce de Leon had to post a bond with the municipality to erect the crane on site, and that bond was returned without knowledge of the damage.

According to Bill Brown, acting manager of community life, "The bond was returned once all of Mr. Ponce de Leon's chattels were removed from the site. The RMOW was not aware of the damage until after the bond was returned."

The municipality is working with Holborn, which owns the site, on the issue. Pique asked what the extent of the damage was, how much it would cost to repair and what Ponce de Leon's responsibilities are to make restitution, but did not receive a reply by press time.

This is the second time the tennis club has been in the news recently. Members of the Whistler Tennis Association are upset that Holborn has cut hours of operation, raised prices and allowed the maintenance of the facility to slide. Holborn is currently responsible for operating the club as a community amenity after purchasing the property - and obligations - from the previous owner, Park Georgia. However, council admitted on Tuesday that they don't have the power to compel Holborn to operate the club to a higher standard.

The land was originally zoned as RR1, which would have allowed for the construction of a few homes, when Park Georgia put forward a proposal to build a world-class tennis facility on the site in exchange for bed units. At the time the RMOW was exchanging bed units for tourist amenities, opening the door for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and Nicklaus North developments.

The Park Georgia proposal included a hotel that was never built. The current tennis facility with a heated bubble was only supposed to be a temporary facility until the development went ahead.

Holborn, which purchased the property for $27 million, has gone as far as third reading to rezone the property as residential, with duplexes, townhomes and condos instead of a hotel, as well as seniors housing and an $18 million tennis and fitness facility. With the economic crisis in 2008 curbing demand for real estate, Holborn never put the proposal forward for fourth reading - something that would have triggered deadlines for construction of the first phase of housing and the tennis/fitness facility.

A concerned member of the public brought it to the Pique's attention in January that the RMOW may have added bed units to the cap without going through the due process of a public hearing - an issue which is also related to the Holborn file.

Holborn's application to rezone the property would result in the company giving up some of the bed units that would have been included in the hotel once planned for the site - bed units that are now included in the cap.

The RMOW recently gave 174 of those bed units to First Nations for their Baxter Creek development above the Rainbow subdivision. As part of a pre-Olympic three-party deal with the Province and the Squamish/Lil'wat Nations, the RMOW received a land bank (including Cheakamus Crossing and the day skier lots), a significant boundary expansion and a double share of the hotel tax from the province to promote tourism in the resort. First Nations were also given land within the resort, including the parcel of land at Baxter Creek.

There were few bed units attached to Baxter Creek, but the Crown transferred over bed units on provincial land to the First Nations development. As well, some unused bed units were transferred from Cressey, which built Fitzsimmons Walk.

The issue is that Holborn's application has not gone through fourth reading.  Therefore, if Holborn were to sell the land the new owner could opt to keep the current zoning in place and build a hotel. If that occurred -and it's unlikely given the occupancy issues facing the hotel industry - then the bed units given to Baxter would effectively increase the bed unit cap without any public discussion.

Bill Barratt, the chief administrative officer for the RMOW, said the decision was made with the consent of the previous council to give the bed units to Baxter Creek.

"In this particular case we worked to get (Baxter Creek) within the cap, and if (Holborn's) zoning goes through then bonus - everything is within the cap," he said. "If it doesn't then there are 174 bed units added to the overall cap, but from the perspective of what we got in return... The reality is that with the 300-acre land bank at Cheakamus, the day skier parking lots, the boundary expansions, we got our value.

"At the time, the council of the day knew there were risks."

Barratt said the resort would address the bed unit issue if it comes up, but "for the overall benefit to the community it was a good deal and we're quite happy with it."

The transfer of bed units was not a secret and should have been public knowledge at the time, Barratt said.

Barratt also pointed out that bed units are a development tool that have been valuable in guiding the development of the resort that are determined by zoning and the size of lots, but they are only a concept. He said he is confident that the Holborn development will go through as planned when the economic conditions improve, and the bed unit cap will remain unchanged.