Whistler University proposal could come to council 

Whistler University is finally expected to make an appearance before council in the coming months.

The proposal, slated for the Zen lands located across the highway from the Spring Creek subdivision, has encountered considerable opposition from within municipal hall despite never actually coming before council. Previous proposals for the property have been rejected.

The school's proponent will finally get an opportunity to formally present the project to council in the next few months.

Doug Player, a Whistler resident and former professor at San Diego State and the University of San Diego, is leading the proposal for development on the property owned by the Zen family. The land is currently zoned for four estate lots and would have to be re-designated before the school could be built.

Player's vision is for a private university on the scale of Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec or Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley. Its curriculum would focus on areas such as tourism, hotel management and the culinary arts.

"We won't be a research university, we'll be a teaching university," Player said in an interview. "If you look at the most recent report on universities across Canada, the most effective teaching universities are the smaller universities.

"These are enrolments under 4,000 students - Bishop's University, Trinity Western... you get the most satisfied students from these universities."

The proposal calls for development on three benches of the 77-acre site, an area made up of second growth forest and scrub-covered land, including a wetland at its southern end. Player has contracted outside firms to conduct various reviews of the land to determine where he can build.

A report from Whistler-based Cascade Environmental Resource Group indicates that about 50 per cent of the property is suitable for building. Player said the university will only occupy 26 per cent.

"We now have five studies on the land that say the land is perfect to build a university on," he said. "We're going to do a First Nations prep program. I've spoken to both First Nation groups. Their educational coordinators would love to have a university here."

Player estimates his proposal could bring $30 million of economic activity into Whistler on a yearly basis. That's money that comes from the number of people employed, as well as students, 70 per cent of which would be international, according to him.

The proposal has met with reticence in the community, particularly from Mayor Ken Melamed who has accused Player of being "vindictive" in his proposal. Player said he's shown the university to various community members who've given it positive feedback.

Dave Williamson, the principal for Cascade Environmental, said his firm has done a number of reports on the Zen lands including an Initial Environmental Review in 2005.

"There is, in our opinion, some developable upland sites," Williamson said. "It's going to be all about maintaining the riparian areas. There's these little pocket wetlands that need to be protected, and then there is, as you get out towards the edge of the one upland area, which would be furthest to the west, there's an old growth unit on the slopes, so protection of that would be preferable."

Player hasn't specified the date when his proposal will come to council, but he said it's likely to be between December and February.




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