Editorial 

Back to the future, once more

At times in the last decade Whistler’s bed cap has seemed to be as sacred as the bible. For a few years, when summer meant a steady stream of cement trucks between Function Junction and the village, from sun-up to well after sunset, some people took faith in the fact that once the bed cap was reached there would be no more building in Whistler.

As some of the people at municipal hall used to joke, there were three certainties to life in Whistler: death, taxes and 52,500 bed units.

The cap on bed units has now been revised to 55,500, but as we have gotten closer to it the sacredness seems to have diminished. And last week I took part in what once would have been an act of blasphemy.

Members of the local media were invited to sit down with municipal administrator Jim Godfrey and staff to go over the next phase of Whistler. It’s Our Future. As anyone interested in Whistler’s future should know by now, a booklet has been prepared to guide people through the next step in developing a new Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. An open house is being held the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 15 at Myrtle Philip school to gather input and help answer questions about the process. All public input must be received by Nov. 24.

Anyway, the booklet outlines five possible future scenarios for Whistler, ranging from no new development to allowing lots of new market housing development. In between are three scenarios that would see new resident housing built and, in one scenario, more commercial development to diversify the economy.

The four members of the media invited to the sit down with municipal staff were asked to answer the questions at the back of the booklet, which included ranking the five future scenarios. The no-growth scenario did not fare well. In fact, all four of us decided it was the least favoured scenario.

Despite the appearance, this was not pack journalism. And I don’t think it means we in the media are out of touch with public sentiment.

What it suggests is that however sacred the bed cap once was, it is no longer as certain as death and taxes.

Limiting physical growth goes against conventional North American thinking. Many towns and cities have experimented with it in one form or another – using zoning to concentrate density in a downtown core, for example – but few have gone as far as Whistler and set a limit in their official community plan. The reason a limit was set in Whistler is the same reason there is a limit on how many people can hike the West Coast Trail each year: unlimited access/development would destroy what makes the area special in the first place.

But as Whistler has gotten closer to its development limit the laws of supply and demand have kicked in and real estate prices have skyrocketed. The cost of housing – including land values, property and school taxes, and development cost charges – has made affordability arguably Whistler’s biggest issue. And that’s one reason why allowing new development beyond the 55,500 bed cap makes sense.

Another, related, reason is that over time fewer people who work in Whistler will live in Whistler unless more resident restricted housing is built. According to projections in the no-growth scenario, eventually only 48 per cent of Whistler employees will live in Whistler. The other scenarios project between 72 and 77 per cent of Whistler employees will live in Whistler.

So the question becomes where to put this new resident restricted housing. That is what’s at the heart of the CSP process, whether you look at it through the lens of the five scenarios or otherwise.

Municipal staff has done considerable work evaluating all the Crown land within municipal boundaries that could be used for housing, and estimated the cost of servicing those lands. Up to 300 acres of Crown land within municipal boundaries are available from the province as part of the package for co-hosting the Olympics. Analysis of privately owned lands has not yet been done.

Learn more, ask questions and give your input at Saturday’s open house, or go to www.whistlerfuture.com

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