Plans and priorities for the Callaghan

During a February workshop the new Whistler council identified its top five priorities as: 1. The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan; 2. a transition strategy to deal with issues until the CSP is adopted; 3. affordability and affordable housing; 4. financial sustainability, and; 5. relations with the provincial government.

If one was to judge by the municipal budget, however, the CSP would appear to be far down on the list of priorities. Only $100,000 is budgeted for the completion of the CSP. It's patently unfair to pick other projects and compare budgets, but it's also interesting.

For instance, the municipality has budgeted $50,000 this year to acquire land and plan for a proper dog pound. Next year's budget will presumably allow funds for the construction of the pound.

The municipality has also budgeted $50,000 for the design and construction of two bus shelters - $25,000 each - on Northlands Boulevard and at Meadow Park.

So for $100,000 we'll have two very nice bus shelters, a site for the long-awaited dog pound and designs for the building by the end of the year. And for another $100,000 we'll have a new community plan that will guide development, shape growth and define what Whistler will be for the next decade or more.

This simple comparison overlooks the work that was done last year in phase 1 of the CSP, at a cost of approximately $700,000. What that phase of the process produced may be clearer once the public portion of phase II commences.

It is also most likely the case that some of the costs for the next phase or phases of the CSP will be absorbed as municipal staff time, rather than appear as special budgets for consultants.

But regardless of the budget, one of the key questions the next phase of the CSP should deal with is the Callaghan Valley: will it be the new down-valley residential area for people who work in Whistler, or will we continue to seek affordable housing in the traditional residential area between Function Junction and Emerald Estates? It relates to number 3 on council's priority list, but it is a question made more complicated by the interests in and promises made for the Callaghan.

The Callaghan Valley is, of course, a significant part of the Olympic bid, and if we are awarded the Games on July 2 work is to start "immediately" on the Nordic centre in the Callaghan. An athletes village would also be part of the development.

The province has promised Whistler 300 acres of land for resident housing and related services, regardless of whether the bid is successful or not, and the assumption is that most or all of that land will be in the Callaghan.

There have also been promises made to First Nations about land and opportunities available to them in the Callaghan. A golf course and a hotel have been mentioned.

But what exactly happens in the Callaghan would seem to depend on two things: the success or failure of the Olympic bid and the outcome of Whistler's CSP.

If the Olympic bid is unsuccessful, the CSP would seem to be the major determining factor. But if we get the Games a lot more interests come into play and the CSP could be steamrollered.

Infrastructure, including sewer, water, power, roads and transit, will be required for the Nordic centre and athletes village. The federal and provincial governments will pay, but they may want to see a good return on their investment. It's going to cost a fair bit to bring those services into the valley, so why not plan for 5,000 people using them instead of 1,000?

That may or may not jibe with the vision Whistlerites define for themselves and the Callaghan in the CSP process. Then again, it may not matter.

The Liberals in Victoria like the constant stream of revenue from Whistler, the only thing they would like is more - particularly given that they have promised to balance the budget next year. If increasing sewer capacity in the Callaghan produces a larger development in the valley and more tax revenue (and keep in mind the feds would be paying half of the infrastructure costs), Victoria is hardly going to object.

Similarly the Ottawa Liberals, with a new prime minister waiting in the wings, will be anxious to get some mileage out of the Games. The Callaghan, with First Nations projects in the mix, would be a nice legacy they could point to.

As for Whistlerites' thoughts on the Callaghan, let's hope they are clearly reflected in the CSP and that senior levels of government respect those thoughts.


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