Have we seen the future?

A month or so ago a Whistler business manager made the decision to leave Whistler, for family reasons, and so began the laborious process of transferring bank accounts, cancelling memberships and informing friends of the family’s departure. One of the simplest tasks was selling the employee-restricted condo the family had owned for several years. They established their asking price and the offers started coming in – and the offers were higher than the asking price. In fact, prospective buyers began bidding against each other for the condo.

The unit was in an older employee housing project where the only covenant on title was that the occupants must be Whistler residents; anyone could own it, so the bidding was fierce.

The frenzy didn’t sit well with the family, who have been part of the Whistler community for years and understand the importance of affordable resident housing and the spirit in which it was intended. When one interested buyer said they were looking at the condo strictly as an investment the family dropped that person from consideration. Then a realtor called and said he was concerned the family’s asking price was devaluing another unit in the complex that he had listed.

The family finally accepted an offer from a local resident. It wasn’t the highest offer but it was one they could, in good conscience, accept – knowing that once they leave Whistler they won’t be able to return, at least not as home-owners.

Expecting a clear conscience to become a regular consideration in real estate transactions, like mortgage rates and kitchen appliances, is perhaps a bit hopeful. But the example above speaks volumes about the state of Whistler in 2002. Among other things, the bidding for an employee-restricted condo demonstrates how successful Whistler has become, and the price of that success.

Interestingly, the criteria for a successful resort community is the topic of the first discussion paper in the Whistler. It’s Our Future comprehensive sustainability plan. A summary of the paper was included in last week’s edition of Pique. The full paper is available online at www.whistlerfuture.com . A summary of the second discussion paper, criteria for a sustainable resort community, is included in this edition.

The Whistler. It’s Our Future comprehensive sustainability plan is to be the map Whistler will follow for the next couple of decades, a period that will see the town reach buildout and the pressures on affordability increase.

We take Whistler’s success for granted now, but the first discussion paper attempts to break success down into a number of elements: partnerships, the environment, a strong and vibrant community, and enriching the Whistler experience. Sub-categories under enriching the Whistler experience include the local economy, cultural attractions and community character. Some of these are abstract concepts that most people recognize but which may also cause eyes to glaze over, sort of like a lecture on cognitive geography.

The story of the condo sale is what it’s all about.

The municipality has started to address many of the issues outlined in the discussion papers, including affordability, which may be the most difficult to achieve and the most crucial to Whistler’s future. Affordability may be a vague concept that means different things to different people but it is the foundation of what makes Whistler unique. It is a town with character and personality because of the people who live here.

We may have the most vertical of any ski resort on the continent and be smack in the middle of a beautiful rainforest, but that isn’t what keeps people here in the long term. I would argue it isn’t even what keeps visitors coming back year after year. It’s the people. Without them Whistler is just another resort in a beautiful setting.

One of the things that has always attracted people to Whistler is opportunity, be it in lifestyle, business or self expression. That will be lost if people have to get into a bidding war in order to live here. There are other opportunities in other towns.

That applies to the whole crop of next winter’s employees, to seniors who have lived here for much of their lives, and to everyone in between.

If you have some ideas on the future of Whistler and what’s important there’s a workshop on Thursday, July 18 starting at 5 p.m. at the Westin Resort & Spa. Whistler. It’s Our Future, at least those of us who continue to live here.

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