chalet villas 

After more than a year of debate on the issue of chalet and tourist accommodation council has decided to enforce the zoning bylaws that make most of them illegal — but there’s going to be a one-year phase in period to allow owners of these operations to comply. "It’s not a decision, it’s giving them a year to see what happens," said Judy Hecht, a White Gold resident and one of the people who has lobbied against illegal chalet and villa operations in residential neighbourhoods for the past year. "It shows a total disrespect to the time people have spent working with council on this," Hecht said. "These tour companies have milked the system for years. The only ones who are asked to pay the price are the community." After several months of discussing special permits for chalet and villa operations, council changed direction and passed a motion Feb. 16 that it would enforce existing residential zoning bylaws, with enforcement to commence May 1, 1998. This week, in a 4-2 vote (Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and acting mayor Ken Melamed opposed the motion) council endorsed the May 1, 1998 enforcement, but with a one year transition period. The transition period is designed to give operators with current bookings a reasonable amount of time to shut down operations. In order to participate in the transition period owners and operators are required to sign an agreement that they will cease operations by May 1, 1999. Those operators who don’t sign by May 1 of this year will be sent a letter containing an agreement to shut down by May 1, 1999. Those who continue to operate after refusing to sign the agreement will be subject to court action. However, the enforcement policy and the transition period are only part of the picture. A full report and policy on chalet and villa operations is expected later this year. That policy may include provisions for rezoning residential properties which would make chalets and villas legal operations. The issue has pitted legal pension and bed & breakfast owners, as well as residents like Hecht, against Whistler/Blackcomb, the Whistler Resort Association and some local property managers which rent villas. The British tour operators that utilize chalets, Whistler/Blackcomb and the WRA have argued, have become a huge part of the local economy. David Brownlie, senior vice president of finance for Whistler/Blackcomb, stated in a letter to council the 31 illegal chalets operating in Whistler this year generated $5.6 million revenue for the community. Brownlie estimated the number of villas in operation to be at least double that of chalets, and that they generate an additional $5 million in revenue. Wilhelm-Morden endorsed the enforcement policy but not the one year transition period. "We’ve already had a transition period. We’ve been dealing with this for more than a year. We’re just giving operators another year to aggravate their neighbours," Wilhelm-Morden said. "Ultimately this is an issue that doesn’t have a compromise," she continued. "We’re going to see these same people in court, either May 1, 1998 or May 1, 1999." Councillor Dave Kirk conceded that there is intrusion on neighbours, "but we also sell products and services to these visitors. This is an important sector of our economy. I think we need the transition period." Kirk added that a clear message is being sent out: "Unless you are in a legal zoning this time next year, you won’t be allowed to operate."

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