Nita Lake Lodge approved 

John Haibeck’s Nita Lake Lodge development finally received the go-ahead Tuesday from a majority of the five members of council eligible to vote on the project.

By a 4-1 vote, with Councillor Ken Melamed opposing and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillor Gord McKeever unable to vote because of conflicts of interest, council gave third reading to zoning bylaws which will permit an 80-room hotel on the south shore of Nita Lake, an adjacent train station, and 14 single family lots and 40 employee townhouse units on 23 acres at Nita Lake. As well, the developer will build more than 100 employee beds on two acres at Alpha Creek and dedicate nearly 25 acres of wetlands for protection. He will also make cash donations totalling well over $1 million to health care in Whistler and recreation facilities.

Melamed, who opposed the project, said he was particularly concerned about the train station. The station will be privately owned but a covenant on the property ensures that it will be available to any train operator who pays to use the facility.

But Melamed said Whistler Rail Tours, a company associated with the Nita Lake Lodge Corporation, doesn’t have an agreement with the province to use the BC Rail tracks.

"The train station may not happen," Melamed said.

If there is no train operator and no train station, the land for the station will have to be rezoned again.

Melamed also said while 25 acres of wetlands was being preserved, nearly 100 acres of adjacent wetlands owned by John Zen remain unprotected.

"If it took a development of this size to protect 25 acres, what’s it going to take to protect the remaining 100 acres of the Zen lands?" Melamed asked.

He suggested the whole Nita Lake Lodge development should have waited for completion of the Lake Placid Road plans or the comprehensive sustainability plan.

"I think it’s unconscionable," he said.

Councillor Nick Davies objected to Melamed’s use of the word unconscionable.

"This has not been an unconscionable process. The developer didn’t chose the process," Davies said.

Davies said that the fact the remainder of the Zen lands are not protected is not this developer’s problem. He added that the municipality’s design panel and many Creekside neighbours of the project feel the development respects the setting and is not out of scale with the neighbourhood.

Davies and Councillor Marianne Wade both said the project would improve Scotia Creek and protect fish habitat that is currently poorly maintained.

Acting mayor Caroline Lamont said the project demonstrates the need for upgrading the comprehensive sustainability plan. She noted an interim strategy was adopted to deal with the project but she doesn’t expect to see another one-off project like Nita Lake Lodge before the new CSP is adopted.

Lamont said she evaluated the project in the context of the resort and the neighbourhood.

"One of the most difficult aspects for me is the size of the lodge; it’s big."

But she said the site has previously been disturbed and it uses existing bed units, rather than creating new bed units.

"New pavement and a new Husky station doesn’t do it for Creekside," Lamont said. "It needs more private sector investment.

"The community benefits (from the development)… I think it’s good planning."

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