In over their heads

Anyone with the morbid curiosity to want to see what happens when non-swimmers try to tread water or, failing that, are left grasping at anything that might help them stay afloat, should have watched council deal with the Nita Lake Lodge proposal Monday night.

Council members distanced themselves from the project as if the paper the staff report was written on had been used for house-training a puppy. All agreed it was something the next council would have to deal with, after the Nov. 16 municipal elections.

I’m not suggesting that this project is too good to pass up. I think it has some very strong points and I think it would have some substantial impacts on Creekside and Whistler, some positive and some negative.

But the project has been written about, talked about and discussed for months. Haibeck has also been trying to get it on council’s agenda since July, but kept getting bumped. So for council members to praise Haibeck for his public consultations but suggest he was at fault for consulting everyone but council is a bit rich.

Some of the other bits of flotsam that were tossed out as reasons to sink the project Monday were that the plan for redeveloping Creekside is now out of date and that the development of Franz’s Trail already establishes a commercial presence in the area. But if the Creekside plan is outdated it’s because of the actions and inactions of successive councils over the last decade. Those councils repeatedly promised to get on with the redevelopment of Lake Placid Road but waited until this year to finally do it.

And it was three years ago that most members of the present council voted in favour of Intrawest’s so-called Comprehensive Development Strategy for Creekside, which included Franz’s Trail.

But the really desperate thrashing in the water came over that most-Whistler of issues, bed units. Haibeck has presented two options to acquire the bed units for his project: protecting the wetlands on John Zen’s property or cash for community amenities.

The wetland option would see Haibeck buying Zen’s lands and transferring the bed units from that property to Creekside while turning over Zen’s lands to the municipality for preservation.

Some councillors suggested this was a dubious deal because the bed units on Zen’s lands are different than other bed units. Puleeze.

No one has ever seen a bed unit, but no one has ever tried to say there are two types of bed units either. Bed units are bed units. At one time they were assigned to parcels of land and couldn’t be transferred, but the municipality was a willing participant in bringing that understanding to an end. Bed units have been passed around, bought, sold and transferred, just like pork bellies or any other commodity, for years. And they’re all the same.

The real problem with Haibeck’s proposal is it comes in the middle of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan process and the start of election season. That’s why councillors had a sudden attack of the guilts when looking at the millions of dollars proposed for amenities. But they’ve been accepting them and operating without guidelines for some time.

When the Houghton proposal of cash for community amenities in return for upzoning came to council in February of 2001 Councillor Dave Kirk tried to initiate a debate on the larger issues, including whether the municipality was receiving value for zoning? He was ignored.

Councillors Ken Melamed and Ted Milner raised the same issue two weeks ago in relation to the Bunbury proposal.

On Monday, suddenly everyone thought it was something that should be looked at before dealing with the Nita Lake Lodge proposal.

Melamed asked: "Are we or are we not addicted to the dollars these developments are offering?" Presumably this was a rhetorical question, because the answer is obviously yes. And based on the precedents already set by council, why wouldn’t you expect such offers from developers?

Melamed also asked the obvious question: "What do we do when we run out of bed units?"

To answer this question, everyone agreed, Whistler needs to complete the CSP process. But what about Haibeck’s proposal? It’s not like council is in uncharted water here, it’s just a little deeper than they’re used to.

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