Municipal hall far removed from public

The second most disturbing thing about council’s decision to shut down the Whistler Three proposal, and before it the Alpha Creek proposal, is how out of touch municipal hall seems to be with the community.

The most disturbing thing is that municipal hall doesn’t seem to trust the public to make up its own mind about these issues.

Speaking in favour of a motion that the Whistler Three project not be sent to an open house last week Mayor Hugh O’Reilly referred to "what is not being said. What other options are out there… I think the public will see it as this (project) or nothing."

Well then, let’s hear about the other options. Let’s have a public discussion about community needs and how they can be achieved, and then let’s put it down on paper so everyone can understand where Whistler’s going. The process might be called updating the Official Community Plan and the Comprehensive Development Strategy, something that hasn’t been done since 1994.

A few years ago the municipality, with public input, produced the Vision 2002 document. It outlines community values and goals, but it is also full of motherhood statements that would be hard for anyone to argue against. It is a worthwhile document but it doesn’t deal with nuts and bolts issues that face the town, including employee housing needs. And the list of issues doesn’t stop there. For instance:

• Whistler-Blackcomb will earn the right to acquire additional Crown land along the west and south flanks of Whistler Mountain through the Commercial Alpine Ski Policy as it increases uphill capacity with lifts on the mountain’s south flank, including perhaps a third access point. How should those lands be used? Is the municipality obligated to provide more bed units for those lands?

• What sort of planning principles are we following if an isolated subdivision like Spring Creek, which will include a school and a day care, is permitted but the only development allowed on the surrounding Alpha Creek and Cheakamus North lands is a few trophy homes?

• The municipality is looking at closing the landfill in the next few years and possibly building a municipal golf course on the site. This, like the two previous points, is going to have an impact on the south end of the valley and travel patterns within the valley.

• Indications are the Olympic bid will require a new athletes’ village and perhaps a media village. Some recreational development in the Callaghan Valley is also proposed. These developments, if permanent, would have a significant impact on municipal infrastructure, travel patterns and most previous planning for Whistler.

• Should the bed unit cap be re-evaluated? Is it even relevant anymore? Is there a plan for the floating bed units?

• What community facilities are still needed and is there a strategy for building them?

As former municipal planner Caroline Lamont pointed out in a story in these pages two months ago, the municipality has developed an environmental strategy and a transportation strategy in recent years but hasn’t sat down to update the overall plan for the community and the resort in the wake of these strategies.

And opportunities for public input do not appear to be increasing. The annual town hall meeting has all but disappeared.

Democracy often isn’t pretty. Public discussions of the problems and issues facing the community can be long, drawn out affairs and often get sidetracked – but at least everyone has an opportunity to be heard. With the number of issues facing Whistler today and in the future, and municipal hall’s apparent detachment from the people, a public process would be welcome.


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