Wedge rezoning puts boundary expansion at risk 

Developer maintains right to build more homes, mayor refutes

By Alison Taylor

Whistler’s boundary expansion is in jeopardy given the regional district’s plans to move forward with a rezoning on the resort’s northern edge said Mayor Ken Melamed this week.

A meeting has been scheduled with the province next month to determine how Whistler can get a boundary expansion to the north despite an active rezoning of those lands by the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

“The (SLRD) board threw another wrench into the (boundary expansion) process,” said a frustrated mayor this week. “The province is not in the habit of granting boundary expansions while anything is in process.”

Originally the meeting with the province was set up to discuss how the land, which has been approved for 64 estate homes, would transition from regional district lands to municipal lands, said the mayor.

Last month, however, the SLRD board supported plans to rezone the land, which will allow the development to go from 64 homes to 108.

That prompted Whistler council’s decision to immediately withdraw funding from the regional district, straining relations further between the two local governments over this contentious issue.

It also raised questions about the long-awaited boundary expansion, one of Whistler’s main Olympic legacies.

Developers of the Green River Estates said they are caught in the middle of a disagreement between the SLRD and the resort municipality and are simply trying to get what they believe they are entitled to under the existing zoning on their 600-acre parcel of land.

They can build 108 homes on the land according to the current zoning said developer David Ehrhardt.

“We don’t need any blessing from anybody to do that,” he said this week.

“The facts are that there is a density that is permitted under the existing zoning.”

That may be the case said Melamed if the land was in the Prairies, meaning it was flat and could be neatly subdivided.

In this case however the developer’s 600 acres stretches on both sides of Highway 99 north of Whistler.

The western portion of land, according to a SLRD staff report, is “practically un-developable.”

Melamed’s immediate response to Ehrhardt’s assertion that they can build 108 homes is: “No they can’t.

“Obviously it’s very clear that the zoning doesn’t allow for 108 lots otherwise they wouldn’t be applying to have it rezoned. If they could, why don’t they?”

Under the Bare Land Strata Act, it is possible to put a development in a smaller footprint and maximize a site’s full potential in a process called “density averaging.”

In this case the developers are allowed to build four homes on every 20 acre parcel of land. When the developable area is constrained to the east side of the highway, the parcels get smaller. Under the SLRD’s zoning bylaw, parcels less than 20 acres cannot hold as many as four homes.

Try as they might to find creative ways to maximize the development potential in the end SLRD staff, and the provincial approving officer, agreed that there could be 64 homes built on the east side of the highway based on the current zoning bylaw. If the developer wanted more, they would have to go through a rezoning process.

Ehrhardt calls allowing just 64 homes “the worse case interpretation of the bylaw.”

Putting the development on one side of the highway instead of sprawling over 600 acres is just good planning. They are doing the right thing he said, asking for exactly what the bylaw allows but in a tightened footprint.

“We should not be penalized because of us trying to do the right thing from a planning perspective,” he said.

Melamed said if the developers are trying to do the right thing by minimizing their footprint they wouldn’t be building estate lots.

“If they were really serious about minimizing their footprint they would build high density and they could build on two acres,” he said.

“They would have smaller lots, they would have mixed use and density and then you might actually be talking about smart growth development and design.”

Despite their concerns about fringe development like this relying on Whistler’s services, the municipality has accepted that the developers are allowed to build 64 homes.

Whistler council will not accept the rezoning to build 108 homes.

The SLRD board’s decision to support the rezoning at this early stage is affecting how Whistler conducts its business at the board table, as evidenced by Monday’s meeting.

For example, where once Whistler was willing to allow the rural directors to keep BC Hydro grants for community initiatives in their areas, it is now pushing to have that money go into general funds. (See related story.)

Melamed said: “I think it’s fair to say that Whistler’s position on the grants in lieu has been effected by the board’s decision to proceed with the rezoning.”

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