"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s not the thin edge of the wedge." Those were Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden’s words Monday night in explaining the deal to purchase the Decigon lands with bed units above and beyond the cap. Council members, collectively, spent approximately one hour at Monday’s meeting explaining their thoughts on the deal before voting 6-1 in favour. We agree with the decision. This is not the best deal but at this late date, having heard the efforts made over the last four years to explore other means of acquiring the lands, we have to believe it is the only deal that will preserve the Emerald Forest area in its entirety. And it should be remembered the value of these lands is that they are the last link in a continuous corridor of protected green space from Alta Lake to Green Lake. This deal sets a number of precedents for the municipality, the most obvious being the granting of bed units beyond the bed unit cap. But it also signals a pro-active approach to environmental management. Rather than reacting to development proposals and trying to minimize their environmental impact, the municipality is in the process of identifying environmentally significant lands and working to protect them. Admittedly, in many ways this is easier to do today, when virtually all of the development rights have been allocated, than it would have been several years ago. But in other respects it is becoming more difficult. The value of land is higher than it has ever been, some land owners are more patient and willing to hold on to large acreages today in the belief that eventually they will be able to win some development rights, perhaps in exchange for fulfilling some of the community’s needs such as another school site or a library building. And here, of course, is where the deal for the Decigon lands is most troubling. Is it the thin edge of the wedge? How many bed units is a library worth? How do you determine the value of a wetland? Cohesive, linked, long-term policies are needed so that these decisions aren’t reactive or made on an ad-hoc basis. The municipality is moving in that direction in a number ways, including the Environmental Strategy, which establishes values, environmental principles, directions and strategic goals. The municipality is also working on long-term capital plans and business strategies intended to show how and when things such as a library, an arena and land acquisitions can be financed. The criteria for granting bed units beyond the cap is also well established, although not as well understood as the actual cap. Five years ago many people didn’t even know there was a limit on growth in Whistler, but during the orgy of development in Village North the 52,500 number became a life ring, an assurance to cling to. As Whistler has gotten closer to that number it has become more firmly established in people’s minds. Granting bed units beyond the bed unit cap — even though it was done years ago when it was decided employee housing projects wouldn’t be included in the 52,500 count — is a violation of an important principle, but it does not signal the end of Whistler. We are in new territory now, not just because bed units beyond the 52,500 have been approved but because Whistler has never been so close to buildout before. The pressures — for development, for protecting the environment and for community needs — are greater than they have ever been. The deal for the Decigon lands is done. It is a compromise that probably no one is completely satisfied with, but council and municipal staff deserve credit for pursuing alternatives with due diligence and then making a decision they feel is in the best interest of the whole community.

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