Council turns down request to meet WIC 

University proponents plan information session for Nov. 13

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Council has rejected a last minute request from the proponents of Whistler International Campus (WIC) to meet behind closed doors to go over its business plan.

This comes as council prepares to debate the controversial rezoning application at its Dec. 3 meeting and WIC prepares to host an open house on Nov. 13 from 7 to 9 p.m.

That business plan information should not be kept from the public, said several council members, rejecting the request to go in camera that came in a letter from Doug Player, the face of WIC.

Player said he made the last submission to the municipality in recent weeks, but did not include the detailed business plan as requested by staff.

"The staff refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement which means our research and intelligence would not remain confidential," wrote Player in a letter to council this week. "Therefore, we have not included our pro forma documents in the submission."

Part of Player's concerns centre around a $150,000 budget item in the just-approved Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) report targeted at education.

He asked municipal CAO Mike Furey about the line item at Tuesday, Nov. 5's council meeting, demanding specifically if it was to engage with an educational partner.

"Those are funds that the EPI Committee identified to pursue educational opportunities," explained Furey. "It was recognized that there may be some start up costs that we might want to participate in."

No one institution has been named.

Proponents for WIC hope next week's information session will clear up any questions about the 31-hectare proposal.

The presentation will include information on "everything from how the curriculum will work, which programs we'll be offering, to how (the university) will benefit the community," said Player Nov.4, adding that he wants to hear from members of the public who may have questions or concerns surrounding the project.

In August, an open house was held on the proposed site of the school, a large parcel located across Highway 99 from the Spring Creek entrance known as the Zen Lands, which drew 150 attendees.

Under current zoning, only four homes can be built on the site, with the lowest section of the property considered sensitive wetlands. The project's developers proposed to build classroom facilities, staff and student housing to accommodate up to 1,500 people, a leadership centre with retreat cabins, a lecture theatre, skating pond and a residence for the university president on the upland bench areas to protect the sensitive habitat. Roger Zen, whose family has owned the site for about 40 years, previously indicated that the proposal represents an investment of up to $300 million, with the necessary funds already in place to begin construction.

"We're not asking for anything more than (council) move us forward into the rezoning process, which means a public hearing," said Player. "We think it should go forward, and we can't see a reason why it shouldn't."

Player, who has been involved with the project since its inception in 2005, feels the international university will diversify Whistler's economy, bring intellectual value and attract a significant number of international visitors. He has secured partnerships with schools from around the world, including the University of Northern British Columbia, Austria's University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wein and Gakushuin Women's College in Tokyo.

The council-appointed Whistler Learning and Education Task Force released a report in the summer looking at future post-secondary learning opportunities in the resort. The report came after more than a year of investigation and provides a framework for the municipality to launch educational initiatives or evaluate proposals. The task force recommended establishing a timeframe for identifying five priorities in the next three to five years.

Capilano University, the Vancouver Sympony Orchestra, UBC's Sauder School of Business, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, among others, have expressed interest in post-secondary opportunities in Whistler.

- With files by Alison Taylor


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