Wildfire response to get boost from new vehicles 

Council briefs: DVP denied; Illegal Nightly Rentals update; What's the plan for 2018 festivals?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE - What the fest? While one festival is already wrapped—GO Fest, which included music from bands like Victoria-based Current Swell—the rest of the year's programming has yet to be revealed.
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde
  • What the fest? While one festival is already wrapped—GO Fest, which included music from bands like Victoria-based Current Swell—the rest of the year's programming has yet to be revealed.

In addition to a new early wildfire detection system, Whistler will have added support this summer in the form of three wildfire response vehicles.

The vehicles are expected to cost about $75,000 each, one of them being a replacement of an existing vehicle, said Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) Chief Geoff Playfair.

"They're lighter still than the BC Wildfire rapid response teams ... smaller, but probably more versatile for us in terms of accessing our tighter, old logging roads and such around the valley," Playfair said.

"It sets us up pretty well for an initial fire attack on a wildfire, and sets us up well to support BC Wildfire once they arrive if they need our support."

The new trucks will have a crew cab with a flat deck box built more specifically for wildfire response, Playfair said.

"It will have cupboards on the sides rather than just a pickup truck back end, and then a slide-in pump and tank in the centre of it that will come out in the winter months, and it will be more of a versatile response vehicle in the winter (for light medical response).

"We've now got three vehicles that we can respond into difficult-to-get-to areas, whereas last year we only had the one, and so that's an improvement for sure."

Taken in conjunction with the early detection system—two cameras able to detect heat and smoke signatures, covering about 70 per cent of the Whistler Valley—the WFRS will be well equipped to respond quickly to the threat of wildfires.

The early detection system has about $70,000 earmarked for it, Playfair said, including the cost of the two cameras and installation.

DVP DENIED

A Development Variance Permit for an undeveloped property on Alta Lake Road was wholly rejected by Whistler council on May 22.

The proposal asked for three setback variances to allow for the construction of a new home on the small 4,632-square-foot-parcel—a request that drew the ire of nearby neighbours in the Old Gravel Road/Raven Lane area.

In all, 10 nearby residents wrote to council to voice their disapproval.

In the end, the application was defeated by a vote of 6-0.

"This was what I would describe as an accidental subdivision by virtue of the fact that a road was surveyed and constructed through the existing parcels of land," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, noting that the parcel was clearly never intended to be developed.

"There is no hardship to the owner in turning these variances down. The lot was assessed last year at $500."

Concerns around keeping Whistler FireSmart also played into the decision.

"There's already problems in this neighbourhood with access. It's a 12-foot-wide road," said Councillor Cathy Jewett.

"I would be interested to see what the fire department had to say about accessing yet another building on a tiny little laneway. So I will not be supporting it."

With infill housing still on tap as one of seven recommendations from the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing, council will likely have to contend with similar decisions in the coming years.

"Myself, when a variance comes before us in the way of a retaining wall or somebody wants to add a little extra space so they can make off-road parking for a vehicle, I've been in favour of that, but this one is really stretching it for me," said Coun. Steve Anderson.

"And I also don't want to appear hypocritical, because I am in favour of infill in larger lots and subdivisons, but with that in mind I always had the idea of adhering to the massing, the heights and the setbacks would be adhered to when infill does go forward or we do have carriage houses or that sort of thing, so this one doesn't really fit with any of that."

ILLEGAL NIGHTLY RENTALS UPDATE

Work on illegal nightly rentals continues on behind the scenes at municipal hall.

So far this year, RMOW Bylaw Services have received 27 complaints about tourist accommodation operating without proper zoning and licensing, relating to 21 properties.

Six are currently under investigation, while other properties have chosen to comply.

"Bylaw Services would like to thank members of the public for continuing to report illegal nightly rentals in their neighbourhoods. This can be done through an online form," an RMOW spokesperson said.

"Staff actively investigate every complaint they receive, and have worked successfully with a number of homeowners to bring them in compliance with Whistler's zoning and business regulations."

Property owners who are marketing or renting a legal tourist accommodation require a business licence at a fee of $165 per year, plus $10 for each additional accommodation unit.

Residential owners who market or rent accommodation to tourists face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

Find more info at www.whistler.ca/touristaccomodation.

WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH THIS YEAR'S FESTIVALS?

While council usually receives a report on the RMOW's annual Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) programming in February, no such report was tabled this year.

With one big event—the May long weekend GO Fest—already in the books, what does the rest of the year's festival programming look like?

While no firm details have been revealed, the RMOW says it will be similar to last year's offerings.

The FE&A budget for 2018 is set at $3,160,000, the same as in previous years.

"The province has confirmed that the RMI program will continue for 2018 and provided a portion of the funds. With the full amount of RMI funding outstanding, the RMOW is taking a diligent approach to confirming the full program for this year," a spokesperson said, adding that there likely won't be a council presentation, but a media release will be issued in the coming months once details are finalized.

"The plan is for the FE&A 2018 program to continue building off past successes with a similar approach and investment mix to previous years."

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