Wide range of comments heard on Official Community Plan 

New Strategic Planning Committee to address growth management

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - PLANNING PROCESS Director of planning Mike Kirkegaard addresses Whistler mayor and council ahead of a public hearing
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • PLANNING PROCESS Director of planning Mike Kirkegaard addresses Whistler mayor and council ahead of a public hearing

Whistler's updated Official Community Plan (OCP) is in the homestretch now after a public hearing on April 16.

With 14 people speaking at the public hearing and 11 more submitting written comments, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) staff will go back to the drawing board to address any outstanding issues before bringing the bylaw back for third reading at an upcoming council meeting.

The OCP amendment bylaw is slated for adoption later this year.

Comments at the hour-long public hearing covered a wide range of topics, including a need to plan for the future of young adults in Whistler and the changing designation of Whistler's "tennis resort lands" to "core commercial."

But for Matt Woods of Coastal Mountain Excavation (CME), the ask was straightforward.

"We don't need more committees or studies, we need action on affordable homes now," Woods said, adding that of his 85 employees, only 17 currently live in Whistler.

"Last year alone we lost 14 people to housing and affordability-related issues. My business could double tomorrow if we had the highly skilled people in this town to do the work."

The majority of CME's employees are commuting from Squamish and Pemberton, which means higher costs for Woods and long days for workers (who sometimes have to leave at 2 a.m. for work and drive home in end-of-day ski traffic).

"It's a nightmare, and it's killing my staff," Woods said.

"So whether it's the (Whistler Housing Authority) or private developers that are going to build these affordable units ... my only hope is that this OCP moving forward gives us all a better, more relevant and nimble framework within which this town can make better decisions for the future."

For Lance Bright, the concern with the OCP is more fundamental.

"I fear in some ways it may be built on sand, and perhaps may be flawed," Bright said, pointing out that three members of Whistler council—Arthur De Jong, Cathy Jewett and Ralph Forsyth—are employed by Vail Resorts, which has significant expansion interests in the valley (which are supported by the OCP).

"Clearly this bylaw sanctioned by the Local Government Act involves your company, your paycheque and its significant partners ... A lawyer could ask, 'How could they have possibly made impartial judgments, unbiased comments, and come up with a neutral opinion?'" Bright said, adding that it may be prudent for council to produce a legal document addressing the issue.

"I ask you to address this because today I'm addressing it with you kindly—I'd hate to think that some party in the future may throw all this hard work into jeopardy because of a simple oversight."

Caroline Lamont, a professional planner herself, praised the plan's recognition of First Nations interests and the inclusion of maps and illustrations, but said a greater focus on monitoring is needed ("We monitor, we collect a lot of data, but I think we've seen in the last few years when it comes to affordable housing, we failed," she said) as well as some conflicting policies—such as supporting infill housing while at the same time not supporting land uses that will have "unacceptable negative" environmental, social health or economic impacts.

"You can see that gives a little fodder for neighbourhoods wanting to object to a project, and if I was them I would grab policies like that," Lamont said.

"So it just would be great to understand priorities."

For Emily Dicken, a provincial public safety worker, the chapter on health, safety and community wellbeing feels shortsighted.

"It definitely addresses the status quo, but it doesn't address anything aspirational and it doesn't address where the field of practice is already headed," Dicken said.

"So I feel like this plan actually puts Whistler kind of behind the 8-ball of where public safety is going in terms of land-use planning, management and community and social planning."

But for all the questions about the OCP, those concerning Whistler's growth—and how exactly the RMOW plans to measure it—remain at the heart of it all.

"Your methodology for visitation and capacity is only slightly addressed by bed cap, and I see nothing in your OCP in what your methodology is to measure these things," said Milo Rusimovich.

"And that's why I'm not in favour of this OCP as it stands right now, because you have no methodology."

A new Strategic Planning Committee, the terms of reference for which were introduced on April 16, will endeavour to answer those questions.

The committee will be tasked with providing strategic input on long-term community planning and land use, said economic development manager Toni Metcalf.

"It's all about encouraging long-term thinking to benefit the resort community," she said in a presentation to council.

"We already have community vision and goals. This is about the implementation of that."

While a staff report to council proposed that the committee be comprised of Mayor Jack Crompton, two Whistler councillors, three community members-at-large, the president of Tourism Whistler, the executive director of the Whistler Chamber, the chief operating officer of Whistler Blackcomb and the RMOW's chief administrative officer, general manager of resort experience and planning director, Coun. Duane Jackson suggested a more inclusive approach.

The strategic partners are important, Jackson reasoned, but well represented through other committees and boards, and the Strategic Planning Committee should make room for things like community services, healthcare, education, and arts and culture.

"It's a whole new concept of planning, and I don't think there's going to be any immediate, quick answers," he said.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people in the community that are interested in what we may need to address."

The terms of reference will come back to council for adoption at an upcoming meeting.

Does Crompton feel like the committee will address the community's ongoing anxiety around growth management?

"Definitely," the mayor said after the meeting.

"One of the primary focuses will be ensuring that our community deals well with the tourism that we are engaged in. Our goal is that we understand the impacts and we manage the impacts."

As for the question of Whistler's ultimate carrying capacity, "I'm not sure it's a magic number, or one number," Metcalf said in response to a question from Coun. Cathy Jewett.

"I think there's a number of different metrics that we'd be looking at to consider the implications for the resort."

The full OCP public hearing can be viewed at www.whistler.ca/municipal-gov/council/watch-council-meetings.

Find more on the OCP at www.whistler.ca/ocp.


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