How much is too much commercial space? 

Developer Rod Nadeau gives rationale for Rainbow’s 18,000 square foot request

More than one councillor reiterated this week that they are not trying to throw roadblocks in the way of the Rainbow residential development.

But, they are still concerned about the amount of commercial space proposed at the core of this new neighbourhood, set to house more than 1,200 people, primarily full-time residents in employee housing.

"We want to have the right balance," Councillor Ken Melamed said this week. "We’re very cautious about creating destination shopping outside of the village."

But what that balance is from the municipality’s point of view and the developer’s point of view, may in fact be two completely different things. As it stands, the developer is looking to build roughly 18,000 square feet of commercial space.

Council, on the other hand, was thinking more along the lines of 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, said Melamed.

It begs the question: how much commercial space is suitable for the Rainbow development?

One of the partners in the Rainbow project, Rod Nadeau, said this week they are relying on Whistler 2020 (the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan), which is the municipality’s overarching guide for development, as a way to figure that out. The document, said Nadeau, clearly states the goal is to create small compact walking neighbourhoods with services available to local residents so they don’t have to jump into their cars every time they need something.

"We sort of took that to heart," said Nadeau. "If we’re going to listen to the 2020 document, which we’re trying to really do in this whole project, and build a neighbourhood that has the basic necessities, the things you do every day, within walking distance, we’re either going to do that successfully or we’re not going to do it. It makes no sense to put in something that’s going to fail."

By his estimation, 5,000 square feet of commercial is a set up for failure.

But while Whistler 2020 talks about the need for compact, Smart Growth neighbourhoods, the document also talks about keeping the village core vibrant as the primary centre in the resort community and the main hub of social activity.

Admittedly, it’s a conundrum.

"You’ve got here what appear to be two conflicting values," said Councillor Gord McKeever. "One is the desire for vibrancy and animation in the village and that interaction between locals and tourists. And on the other side of the coin you’ve got environmental objectives around not needlessly driving your car, reducing petro-chemical consumption, that sort of thing.

"It seems to be a head-to-head conflict between two values and where we want to go with that."

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