Rainbow inches forward despite commercial concerns 

Councillor Wilhelm-Morden says commercial core size exorbitant

Developer Tom Rafael squared off with council after Monday’s council meeting was officially adjourned, trying to convince them of the need for a sizable commercial core in the new Rainbow subdivision.

After having debated the issue for an hour earlier council would not get drawn into a protracted debate with the developer.

"We don’t negotiate (directly) with you," said Mayor Ken Melamed firmly. "We empower our staff to negotiate with you."

Rafael was chagrined by the response.

"All of the planners, including the director of planning for the municipality, recognize that in order to have a livable functioning community at Rainbow you need a certain commercial core to give it vibrancy," he said immediately after his exchange with council.

And so while the Rainbow project passed the first hurdle in the rezoning process Monday, getting first reading of the bylaws, council has asked staff and the developer to go back to the negotiating table. The project was supposed to get first and second readings on Monday.

The issue at hand is the 23,000 square foot commercial core in the centre of the proposed subdivision. Council, on the whole, believes it’s too big and is worried about the retail uses potentially taking business away from the village.

It was the same issue that was raised by the previous council eight months ago. At that time, council told staff they were uncomfortable with the size of the commercial core. And yet, that size has not changed.

The developers maintain that having a grocery store, restaurant, post office, pharmacy and video, geared to the surrounding neighbourhoods, is based on sound planning principles and is exactly what the community said they wanted in its sustainability plan, Whistler 2020.

"If council thinks… the number is too large, that opinion is contrary not only to the planning exercises that everyone has done but contrary to the interests of those that are going to live there."

But even Rainbow’s most vocal supporter on council, Ralph Forsythe, expressed concerns about the commercial core.

"I love this deal," he said bluntly, adding that seeing it move forward on Monday night helped some members of council keep their campaign promises from November’s election.

"My enthusiasm was tempered a little bit by the size of the commercial."

The worry on council’s mind is competition with the village merchants.

"It’s exorbitant," said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "We don’t need another strip mall in Whistler."

Without trying to delay the project, Wilhelm-Morden proposed giving the Rainbow bylaws first reading, instead of first and second reading as proposed, and then asking for the developers to meet several conditions, chief of which was a reduction in commercial space.

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