The Nita Lake Lodge in context

There are several letters on the following pages that refer to greed and out of control growth and how Whistler council got what it deserved in Madam Justice Humphries’ ruling that the Nita Lake Lodge rezoning is illegal. Not all the comments are fair. The accuracy of some comments could be questioned. And some of the letter writers make substantial leaps in drawing conclusions.

But they reflect the sentiments of some people in Whistler.

There is a significant absence of letters this week from people who supported the Nita Lake Lodge project, and, in the end, a majority of the people who took the time to go to public hearings and open houses and write letters during the nearly two years the project was evolving and making its way through the approval process did support it.

Much of that support was based on the amenities the Nita Lake Lodge developers offered Whistler. Madam Justice Humphries may have found the promise of those benefits in exchange for rezoning the lodge lands to be illegal under the Local Government Act, but that doesn’t change the fact a clear majority of Whistlerites found it acceptable. In making a decision we are usually asked to consider all the benefits, costs and impacts and then decide if, on balance, we can support it. That’s how this page came to support the Nita Lake Lodge project.

Nevertheless, the bylaw has now been declared illegal. Since no one from the municipality can comment or has been available to comment, the community is left to speculate what the next step will be.

This week, the Madam Justice Humphries clarified that work on the Nita Lake Lodge must cease while lawyers for Keith and Rosalyn Lambert prepare their interpretation of the meaning of "deconstruct" for the judge, and Whistler’s lawyers scrape the egg off their face. The Lamberts have said they don’t want the whole hotel scrapped, or deconstructed, just scaled down. What exactly that means may be left to Madam Justice Humphries again.

In the meantime, the decision does much more than screw up the hotel development. The significance of this ruling should be considered in the context of business in Whistler this winter, and future summer business; in the context of another five years of construction on the Sea to Sky Highway; in the context of what this project means to the local construction industry; in the context of who is going to want to provide passenger rail service and when; in the context of Whistler’s employee housing needs; in the context of preservation of wetlands; and in the context of Whistler’s reputation for knowing what it’s doing.

It’s impossible to predict how important a proper railway station and a passenger rail service will be to business in Whistler while the highway is upgraded over the next five years, all we know at this point is that the ruling will almost certainly delay their implementation.

The 128 units of employee and resident-restricted housing that was part of the Nita Lake Lodge project is also in limbo. How badly needed is this housing? Again, it’s difficult to quantify but it is anticipated that "leakage" – the loss of market employee housing – will increase over the next few years. The Nita Lake Lodge project was the largest employee housing project on the horizon.

The Olympics, of course, are coming, with the promise of construction jobs, employee housing, additional business for the resort, community amenities and sustainable development practices – many of the benefits the Nita Lake Lodge was to bring. But construction won’t begin until 2005. Any employee housing generated by the Games is unlikely to be available until after 2010.

But the Olympic projects can’t erase the damage done to Whistler’s reputation by the Nita Lake Lodge fiasco. And the Games can’t make up for lost opportunities.

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