The golf course swap, chapter 2

Perhaps this is an admission of how irrelevant this space usually is, but few columns have produced as much feedback as the idea espoused two weeks ago about moving the Whistler Golf Course to the Callaghan Valley and fulfilling our resident housing needs by using the existing golf course space.

The feedback has ranged from those who think it is a great idea because it meets all of the goals and principles we claim to uphold in Whistler, to those who roll their eyes and smile knowingly – knowing it’s a pipe dream.

For those who think it’s a great idea, and for those who think tar and feathers would be an appropriate form of hair replacement, relax. It’s not my idea. I wish I could claim credit, but I can’t.

And for those with the tar buckets, I don’t know whose idea it is.

But it is an idea – one of the few publicly discussed – for dealing with an issue that is crucial to the future of this community.

The issue is central to Whistler Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which was launched 22 long months ago. The CSP was council’s number one priority for this year but remains in an indefinite state of paralysis.

In the meantime our CSP process is about to be passed by the Olympic organizing committee, which has only to select its chair before it gets down to work preparing for the 2010 Games.

The organizing committee’s mandate is to put on the best Olympics ever and stay within its budget. The committee will be making decisions that impact on Whistler and, presumably, asking for input from Whistler. But it won’t be waiting for Whistler to make up its mind about issues.

So, getting back to one of the fundamental issues for Whistler: where are residents going to live in the future? There is the Callaghan Valley, which would require new infrastructure and would be, essentially, a new down-valley community. There is the Cheakamus site, which could utilize existing infrastructure. There is the Whistler Golf Course land swap idea. The Whistler Housing Authority is also in the midst of hiring a consultant to do an analysis of other potential infill sites, of which there are several. And there are the so-called non-cost initiatives that include innovative ideas like strata-titling suites in existing homes.

Deciding on a course of action would seem to centre around answers to a few questions, such as: What are our housing needs expected to be for the next 20 years? How much housing can each option deliver? At what cost? What are the principles we have followed in the past when making decisions about the community and development and are they still valid?

I can’t give a definitive answer to all those questions, but it doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult task to make some informed decisions based on some of the solid data that’s available.

And it seems to me the golf course idea would stand up well under this sort of analysis. Certainly there are obstacles to overcome – a covenant on title says the land reverts back to the province if it’s not used for a golf course; it would mean temporarily taking away a source of revenue from Tourism Whistler; residents of Blueberry Hill and Whistler Cay Heights are going to object to overlooking resident housing – but there have been obstacles through every stage of Whistler’s development, particularly resident housing projects. What Whistler’s development history shows is a lack of imagination has frequently been one of the biggest obstacles to overcome.

For those who still can’t picture it, look at it this way. We aren’t likely to need thousands of resident housing units all at once; they will be required incrementally over the years. There is lots of space around the 16th-18th holes, the clubhouse, the maintenance yard and the parking lot that is not visible from Blueberry Hill or Whistler Cay Heights.

Only a fraction of the golf course would be needed to meet Whistler’s housing needs. The rest of the land could be converted to a nine-hole executive course (as it once was) and there may be land available for other community desires, such as a theatre, an animal shelter, perhaps a hospital.

And there could still be a designer golf course in the Callaghan, perhaps two if the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations decide to build one with their promised land.

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