Latest development proposal is for university campus 

Latest development proposal is for university campus

Despite little interest from council at this point, plans are in the works to build a university campus on the privately owned Alpha Creek lands in south Whistler.

At Tuesday’s meeting council received a letter from architect Peter Lang outlining a proposal to build a campus on the large tract of land north of Function Junction, on the west side of the highway. Council was mum on the proposal.

When asked afterwards if the lack of discussion meant council was shutting the door on the project, Mayor Ken Melamed said: "My personal opinion, not the opinion of council, is the site is too sensitive," he said. "It should not be developed at all. Its best and highest use for the valley is to remain undeveloped. Council seems to have understood that even though there was not much discussion here.

"They (the developer) keep coming up with stuff that is incredibly intensive on a site that we have zoned as the top level of environmental sensitivity."

Lang said Wednesday morning he was not concerned by the lack of debate at this stage in the process. The company, OKA Holdings, owned by developer John Zen, has yet to submit a formal rezoning application for the university development.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "Hopefully if it’s something the community wants we’ll get there."

As for the environmental concerns on the site, Lang said the studies show there are portions of the site that can be developed. The proposal also ensures that 75 per cent of the site would be preserved forever.

"Certainly the outcome of the environmental analysis was that there are areas on the site which are fully developable in the same context as many other sites in Whistler are," he said this week. "The whole intent was to try and find a balance between preservation and development."

A year ago Zen submitted a plan for a large employee housing project on the site.

Lang said they have had basically no feedback from municipal hall on that proposal but the sense they’re getting is that there is no appetite for another large employee housing project in light of the Rainbow and athletes village proposals.

"We’ve had no formal reviews," he said. "The grumblings that we keep hearing are that the municipality will have accomplished all of its housing needs with the athletes village and Rainbow."

That’s why the plans have changed. Lang said they are in discussions with universities not only in B.C. and Canada but around the world. They want this campus to be a fully accredited university, focusing on postgraduate work, particularly in fields connected to Whistler such as tourism, hospitality, environmental studies and sustainability.

They are hoping for a smooth approvals process so they can be in the ground as soon as possible and have the campus built by the 2010 Olympic Games.

This would allow the developer to lease the buildings to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games for media, security and volunteer personnel.

Though the Olympic Bid Book says there will be no media village in Whistler, the last proposal from VANOC talked about temporary media trailers in the Function Junction area, said the mayor.

VANOC could not provide an update on that proposal before press time on Wednesday.

Lang said a university also falls in line with Whistler 2020, the community’s sustainability plan. Lifelong learning opportunities were highlighted as a goal for Whistler in that plan.

"We’re happy to see a university here if it doesn’t involve more market bed units and uses existing infrastructure," said Mayor Melamed.

"This is just another effort by the developer to find a resonance with this council."

The existing zoning on the site only allows for four single family homes.


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