What’s at stake in challenge to Nita Lake Lodge

It will be a case of déjà vu Monday when the Nita Lake Lodge development proposal comes back to Whistler council for third reading, again.

You may recall this project received third reading more than a month ago and council and municipal staff should have moved on to other things. But a neighbour, Keith Lambert, challenged the legality of the bylaws – specifically the proposed donation by the developers of more than $1 million to health care – and so the bylaws have been re-drafted and the donation dropped.

The Nita Lake Lodge proposal is not the perfect development. When there is a perfect development you’ll read about it in a perfect newspaper, with your perfect vision while sporting your perfect tan and content in the fact your investments are lined up perfectly for whatever the economy throws at them.

While we are still waiting for the perfect development proposal for Whistler, we have heard what the people of Whistler think about the Nita Lake Lodge proposal – several times. Through two public hearings, a couple of open houses, numerous stories in newspapers and discussions in coffee shops over the past two and a half years, the project has had its share of publicity. If you don’t know about the project by now, you haven’t been paying attention. Which is fine, but don’t complain that you haven’t had an opportunity to be heard.

On Monday Whistler council will vote on the project again. For those following this saga there is little doubt how those members of council eligible to participate in the proceedings will vote. Councillors Caroline Lamont, Nick Davies, Marianne Wade, and Kristi Wells are for; Ken Melamed is against. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillor Gordon McKeever have a conflict and can’t vote.

But despite the voice of the people of Whistler and despite the fact that the council vote is expected to reflect that voice, the whole thing may be left in a state of suspended animation if neighbours follow through with a threatened law suit.

As is suggested in the letters to the editor section of this paper, that is an affront to the will of a majority of Whistler residents who have taken the time to educate themselves and speak out about this project.

Think for a minute what it will mean if, after council votes to approve this project for a second time, neighbours file suit to block that decision. It is not just a developer who will be denied, or at least delayed, approval to pursue his plans. It will be, in effect, a law suit aimed at thwarting the will of the majority of Whistler people.

Again, this is not to say that the majority of Whistler people are always right, or that the development proposal is flawless. The lodge is big for the site. The decision is being made against the backdrop of an old OCP and master plan for Whistler Creek. Ideally the lodge would be smaller and a new OCP would already be in place. But that isn’t the case. After nearly three years of planning the project is at the take it or leave it stage, and based on all the community amenities the developers will provide it would be foolish not to take it.

Those opposed to the project say the developers are buying zoning, by preserving wetlands, providing affordable housing and money for other projects. But that’s how business is done here, and elsewhere. It’s a well established process. Should it be changed? Perhaps. But you do that after having a full debate of the principles and objectives. You don’t change the process just because you don’t like a specific project.

It’s popular to question council and municipal hall but in this case any further challenge to the Nita Lake Lodge proposal will not only be an affront to municipal authority but to the community’s will as well.

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