Development underway on Whistler’s fringe 

RMOW waits to hear if the Wedge land is included in its boundary expansion

Despite Whistler’s concerns the province has given preliminary approval for a residential subdivision on the edge of the town’s northern boundaries.

The development will see at least 64 single family homes built close to Wedge Mountain on the east side of Highway 99. This development is allowed under the current zoning on the land, which lies in Area C within the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. The resort municipality does not control development on this land.

"The present application deals with 64 (homes) and that’s still the subject of discussions with the SLRD as to what the ultimate yield would be," said David Ehrhardt, speaking on behalf of the developer of the Green River Country Estates, a private landowner based out of the Bahamas. "There would be at least 64 though."

The Ministry of Transportation issued the preliminary subdivision approval in July.

The approval triggered the roadwork on Highway 99 for a new intersection into the subdivision. The highway work for this year is now complete.

Additional work is also underway within the site itself, which includes the roads winding through the subdivision, a new bridge over Green River and one over the rail tracks. Consultation work has been done with WORCA to ensure key mountain biking trails such as Comfortably Numb and the Wedge hiking trail are still accessible to the public.

The developer hopes to have the lots up for sale by the spring.

Unlike Whistler the regional district does not control the finer forms of the development, such as the size of the homes.

"The zoning presumably could allow, if they chose… a totally up-market development," said Steven Olmstead, manager of planning and development at the regional district. "They could put covenants on that said 5,000 (square feet) was a minimum and if they feel they can find 60 buyers who all want to put 7,500 or 10,000 square foot, multi-million dollar homes, they could do that I guess."

The developer’s vision, however, is to build a community which offers an alternative to Whistler both in terms of a more affordable price and its location in the heart of the forest between Whistler and Pemberton.

"I think that the people that tend to build the mega homes do that because there is a certain cachet in where and what they build and that’s not the intention of this development," said Ehrhardt.

The municipality, however, is not pleased to see what it calls "fringe development" happening on its doorstep.

"Our concern is now you’ve got people living outside our boundaries that are using our facilities but they’re not contributing (in taxes)," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, speaking from Hawaii, where he is now working and living.

"If we wanted more growth we would provide it. We’ve obviously, as a community, said we don’t so it’s pretty obvious that we’re not interested in it, especially right on our fringe."

Whistler lodged its concerns about the project at the regional district. Then, in March 2004 Whistler submitted an application to the province for a large boundary expansion. Part of the expansion includes this swath of land to the north.

The province has not approved Whistler’s boundary expansion and it is not clear what would happen to the future of the Green River Country Estates if it were to come within Whistler’s boundaries.

Waltmann said the boundary expansion application is still in the province’s hands. It has been there since March.

"They’re not forthcoming with any information on when or if or if not (the boundary expansion will be approved)," she said. "Their initial excuse for the delay was the (provincial) election, but that’s long over."

There were many reasons for Whistler’s boundary expansion, all of which involve protecting the success of the resort community in the long-term. O’Reilly said this development compromises Whistler’s success.

"We’re pretty strong that we don’t think that it’s in the best interest in the long-term success of the resort, and the other communities (in the corridor) should be aware that our long-term success has impact on their success because we’re all tied together so closely."

If the land were within Whistler’s boundaries the project would not have passed, he added.

"We wouldn’t have approved it," said O’Reilly.

If it does become part of the resort municipality however, O’Reilly said the RMOW would attempt to impose municipal standards at the very least.

"One of the things we would definitely be doing is putting our standards on it as far as water and sewer and that kind of thing," he said. "I think that’s a bridge we have to cross when we get there."

The threat of Whistler stopping the project if it gets its boundary expansion, however, is at the back of the developer’s mind, even as the project moves ahead.

"They could downzone it," said Ehrhardt.

He said there was some irony to that scenario, particularly as two years ago Whistler’s SLRD representative approved a bylaw that allowed certain tracts of land in Area C to have multiple homes on individual parcels. One of those pieces of land included the Green River Estates.

O’Reilly explained that vote in favour of this bylaw was an oversight.

"I think it really was an error," he said. "Had I picked up on it obviously I would have registered my vote."

He also said the regional district was well aware of Whistler’s concerns about fringe development and its constant calls for a regional growth strategy that would control development like this.

Before supporting the Green River development, the regional district also gave support to a campground development on Whistler’s southern boundaries, much to the chagrin of the municipality.

O’Reilly said: "It’s that incremental creep that’s so dangerous because every year it’s just one more."

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