Editorial 

Time to move forward with Nita Lake Lodge

In the early ’90s John Glenn, the American senator, filed a suit over a housing project that was in view of his Vail house. It didn’t help his political career or his reputation, but when you’re an astronaut, a friend of the Kennedys and an American hero your reputation can take a few knocks before it’s really damaged.

Keith Lambert has decided to sue the Resort Municipality of Whistler over the Nita Lake Lodge development. He filed a writ two weeks ago, a few days before Whistler council adopted bylaws that will allow the project to go ahead.

Mr. Lambert is no astronaut, and his efforts to prevent the project from going ahead are wearing thin.

Over the last couple of years the Nita Lake Lodge project has been reviewed, rehashed, reworked, revisited and re-assessed, by the public, by lawyers, by municipal staff and by most members of council. As an issue it is becoming redundant. It is time to move on.

What has been lost, through a previous legal challenge to the project by Mr. Lambert, is more than $1 million toward health care in Whistler. That money disappeared from the development proposal, and was replaced with more resident housing, when lawyers decided the cash component could perhaps be challenged in court. While cash contributions for community amenities, including the Spring Creek Daycare and Maurice Young Millennium Place, have been allowed as part of other rezoning applications, Mr. Lambert’s efforts led to re-drafting of the Nita Lake Lodge bylaws. They were, we must assume, replaced with tighter legislation.

For tight legislation we can all rejoice. However, the Whistler Health Care Foundation now has to find $1.5 million for teleradiology equipment that will service the thousands of people who annually require X-rays in Whistler. With the Nita Lake Lodge money the foundation would have been well on its way to raising the capital required for the equipment.

Of course the health care foundation isn’t the only organization that needs to raise funds. The library may need to start another capital campaign, WAG needs a home, the museum’s needs are still being determined and the capital campaign for Millennium Place may be revived, to name just a few.

What is threatened by Mr. Lambert’s litigation is not just the hotel, the railway station and passenger rail service, the employee and resident housing and the preservation of 25 acres of wetlands that the development includes. What is threatened is the will of the people of Whistler. Through two public hearings, open houses, newspaper stories, letters to the editor and television coverage anyone with an interest in this project has had a chance to be heard. What is clear is a majority of people want this development to go ahead.

But Mr. Lambert does not. For him, the issue is the size of the hotel which, being situated at the south end of Nita Lake, will be smack dab in the middle of the view from his house at the north end of the lake. So it’s off to court.

A lawyer independent of the whole affair, with expertise in municipal law and planning, told Pique Newsmagazine last week: "You have the statutory provisions in the Local Government Act now. They are there to be used by local governments in order to allow increases in density and to receive municipal amenities in exchange for their density. So if you stick to the Act you should be OK. It’s only if… the court finds you’ve abused the statutory provisions that you’d be out of luck."

The municipality’s lawyers, who have considerable experience with the Local Government Act and represent municipalities across the province, have had two cracks at drafting the bylaws for this project. The municipality appears confident the bylaws will stand up in court. If they don’t, the repercussions will be felt across the province.

If Mr. Lambert insists on going to court his suit should be dealt with expeditiously. A project that provides much needed amenities and is supported by Whistler people should be moved ahead.

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