200 turn out to help chose sustainability consultants 

Four consultant companies took the floor separately on Saturday, each presenting compelling reasons to the public on why they should be chosen to chart Whistler's course to sustainability.

While each bid team had its own specific strengths, deciding on the winner may come down to something as simple as the team with the most historical connections to Whistler or the one with the flashiest presentation or the one made up of the most local/Canadian experts.

It will be up to council now to decide who gets the chance to devise Whistler's Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, a plan that updates the 1993 Comprehensive Development Plan and will address things like the ultimate size of the resort, future land use and employee housing.

As each consultant team pointed out, this idea of sustainability as it applies to the future of a municipality, has never really been tackled before. Whistler is really forging the way with this initiative and creating a model that has never existed.

That being the case, the stakes are high.

"I was just amazed by the calibre of people that had been brought together to look at this and by the quality of the teams. It was remarkable," said Eckhard Zeidler, with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

Council will be guided in the decision-making process with community input as each of the roughly 200 people who sat through Saturday's four and a half-hour event were asked to fill out a simple questionnaire, rating each team's credentials and performance.

They were asked to rate the teams on things like how well they defined the characteristics of a successful resort community and how well they conveyed the concept of sustainability in a resort setting.

As Warren Flint, a senior advisor with GBH Consulting Group, summed up:

"Whistler, all you have to do is look around you to see how a successful destination resort can be characterized."

In addition, the public was also asked to rate each team's credentials based on their economic, social and environmental expertise.

"I spoke with a number of community members after the meeting and on Sunday and I got some pretty different views on who they might chose if the choice was up to them," said Tim Wake, an administrator with the Whistler Housing Authority. "So I think it will be really interesting to see what we said as a community on our little evaluation sheets. Was there a consensus there in terms of who we picked or was there a real diversity?"

While there was some similarity and overlap in each of the presentations, each was different in its delivery and some of its substance.

The four teams each had 45 minutes to present their case with a 15-minute period following the presentation to address questions from the public.

Despite the lengthy event, the public posed some interesting questions to each group.

Some questions centred around how the sustainability plan would jive with the 2010 Olympic bid, others focused on the plan's budget and the short six-month timeline that has been allocated to create the plan.

"(The teams) all had a very different flavour," said Zeidler.

One of the teams, the Center for Resource Management, has strong roots in Whistler although it is based out of Denver, Colorado.

Terry Minger, the president of company, remembers when Al Raine and Nancy Greene, came into his Vail office with the original plans for the Whistler Village. Minger and Eldon Beck, another member of the Center for Resource Management team, then went over these plans on the office floor, adding their input and vision of what was to become present day Whistler Village.

Another key player on this team is Myles Rademan, the public affairs director for the Park City (Utah) Municipal Corporation. Rademan talked about how his city used the Salt Lake Olympic Games as a catalyst to become more sustainable. But he said that Whistler's proposal is really unlike any other.

"This will not be easy. You are stepping out into uncharted territory," he said.

While Minger's team has strong Whistler connections, the GBH Consulting Group has strong Canadian connections, based out of Victoria.

And while the other teams touched on the importance of community involvement in this process, GBH really hammered home the point, including ideas like developing a database, sending out questionnaires, penning a newsletter on the Web site, having two public workshops and "kitchen table meetings." These meetings would be an attempt to get more community involvement.

GBH was also the only team to bring up the importance of including First Nations in the consultation process.

The remaining teams were both based out of the U.S, the first in Santa Monica, California and the second in Denver, Colorado.

RAND Environment began their pitch with a flashy computer presentation complete with a skiing allegory.

Just as a skier goes down a course with obstacles, so does Whistler face problems like the bed cap, affordable housing and rising property taxes.

RAND said they would take on a highly participatory, hands-on approach in which they would encourage the community to claim the sustainability plan as their own because eventually the consultants will leave and it will be up to the Whistler residents to become its advocators.

Finally, the Design Workshop team questioned how Whistler is going to reinvent its next level in the lifecycle.

Rebecca Zimmerman, the principal-in-charge of Design Workshop, said that successful resorts have a clear community-held vision that capitalizes on strong natural resources.

"You have a kick-ass frontier spirit," she told the group.

Indeed, all four companies recognized Whistler as a place that is on the cutting edge with the sustainability idea.

"I think it's such an exciting process," said Wake. "I guess it was really encouraging to hear virtually all of the teams say that Whistler is well-positioned to do this... I see us as having tremendous potential for being leaders in sustainability."

Zeidler says that the roots for the plan are already in place. And he asked the teams about their experience and knowledge of The Natural Step Framework, if they did not address that point in their presentation.

"It's important to remember that a lot of the work as far as where this community wants to go has already been done," said Zeidler. "The direction is clear. It's time to implement it now more than anything else... (The Natural Step Framework) is what we're building the sustainability initiative in this community around."

Council will be choosing the team that will lead Whistler in its Comprehensive Sustainability Plan at a special meeting on Feb. 11 at 9:30 a.m.

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