Friends and neighbours Whistler’s council has been under a lot of pressure recently, with the 19 Mile Creek employee housing project and the issue of chalet- and villa-style accommodation particularly contentious issues. Public hearings and council meetings have not always been pretty, as debates have sometimes pitted neighbour against neighbour, or neighbour against future neighbour. In the process council members have been accused of not listening to the people, of ignoring neighbourhoods’ concerns, of dividing and conquering. And, in the words of some, council has lost credibility. Has it? That may be the feeling of Alpine residents who oppose the 19 Mile Creek project, of the Whistler Creek residents who went to court to have a pension ruled illegal and of people on both sides of the chalet/villa accommodation issue, but perhaps it’s worth looking at how this council came to those decisions. This is a mayor and council elected barely a year and a half ago. Hugh O’Reilly received more votes than all the other candidates for mayor combined. Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Ken Melamed were the top vote getters among councillors, while the other councillors all received strong support. Throughout the election campaign and at town hall meetings since then some of the constant themes have been dealing with employee housing and balancing community issues with the resort’s needs. This council inherited a number of private proposals for employee housing projects from the previous council, but decided to commission an independent study to determine what the needs were. The consultant found that the problem was worse than expected. A number of steps were suggested, including moving ahead quickly on projects that can provide employee housing. Last fall council toured some American mountain resorts to see how they were dealing with issues such as employee housing and balancing resort and community values. The tour shed some light on the consequences of not building employee housing and spurred new initiatives in finance that will shift some of the tax burden from the community to visitors to the resort. There were also examples of how some of those resorts are meeting changing tourists’ demands for accommodation. That’s a small slice of the background council brings to decisions on 19 Mile Creek, chalet and villa accommodation and pensions. Council members have not been unanimous in their support of the specific bylaws attached to these issues. Indeed, on the issue of chalet and villa accommodation council remains divided after more than a year of debate. But council members have come at these issues with the common understanding that a) the average house price in Whistler is now close to $700,000; b) the community is going to be eroded if the people who work here can’t afford to live here; c) the community is not going to survive without the resort; d) there is demand for accommodation other than hotels and condominiums; e) bringing stability and certainty to neighbourhoods is important to the community. Public hearings are the last opportunity for public input on zoning and land-use decisions. And because they are the last opportunity the hyperbole seems to increase — it’s now extended to talk about who to vote for in the next election. This council isn’t perfect — not by a long shot. But they do bring a holistic perspective of Whistler to the table when they make a decision. Suggestions that they are not listening to neighbours are off the mark.


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