Case closed on Rainbow Park expropriation 

Saxton family withdraws appeal marking the end of decades old dispute

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Twenty-five years of legal wrangling, battling in the courts, and failed settlement talks is finally over between the resort municipality and the Saxton family, giving officials past and present pause to ponder the lessons learned in the long, festering expropriation feud.

The saga, which began in 1987, ended this week after the Saxtons abandoned plans to appeal a Supreme Court ruling in May that awarded the family $1.5 million in unpaid interest, bringing the final total cost paid for the 44 hectares of land to $2.4 million. The Saxtons had argued for a minimum interest payment of almost $4.5 million.

"We've had no other piece of litigation lying around for this long," said a pleased Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has made resolving any outstanding municipal litigation a priority of her term. With Rainbow now off the list, as well as the asphalt litigation, all that remains is the Barnfield lawsuit, an outstanding file between the RMOW and local residents over the resale rules of their resident restricted homes.

"We're working on that," said the mayor. "The litigation side of it isn't particularly active, but it's hanging out there and so we want to conclude that and we are talking with Barnfield about that.

"We just don't want these things hanging out there."

Better, she said, to nip them in the bud, deal with them upfront.

And that's the big lesson from the long-simmering expropriation dispute.

"To actually deal with litigation in a proactive manner," said the mayor who is also a practicing lawyer.

"We didn't do that with this case, to our detriment. And that was no individual's fault, it's just that that's a lesson learned."

Former Mayor Drew Meredith, who was at the forefront of the original deal in 1987 that saw Whistler expropriate the 44 hectares of land on the west side of Alta Lake for $367,000, said when he left office in 1990 he believed it was a done deal.

"No one ever mentioned any downstream liability," he said.

"I just totally believe that had we paid attention to this file we wouldn't have had this hiatus.

"I just have a feeling that nobody thought there was a liability there."

But there was.

The Saxton family refused to give up its battle for what they believed was the undervalued payout for their land.

It culminated this year in May's appeal on the amount of interest. In answer to that appeal, the municipality filed a cross appeal, sending the message it was prepared to continue the fight.

"You only have 30 days after a judgment comes down to file your notice of appeal," said the mayor. "Sometimes that's just done to buy some time... they needed time to closely review the judgment, they needed time to get instructions.

"We also filed a cross appeal. That gave the message that there was going to be further battle from both sides. And so, for whatever reason they were able to come to the conclusion that there really was no point in appealing and so they withdrew their appeal, we withdrew our cross appeal. And that's the end of it finally."

Another change coming out of this legal case is a move in the hall to reduce reliance on external legal resources, as outlined in the new RMOW Corporate Plan. This move is due in no small part to bungled legal handling of some aspects of this case.

Council is planning to move ahead with a Request For Proposals (RFP) for legal services. "We haven't done it (an RFP) in a long, long time, if ever," said the mayor.

What gets lost in the legal story, however, is that Whistler has Rainbow Park, described by the mayor as "one of the jewels in our crown as far as parks are concerned," because of the expropriation.

Meredith, looking back, said in 1987 Whistler had virtually no parkland. Rainbow was expropriated to fill what he called "an enormous void."

"I feel like it was one of the best things we did, one of the best things that happened on council," said Meredith. "And I still feel that way at $2.4 million."

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