I have been inundated with calls of support for Whistler U, so I would like to clarify the situation. Whistler U submitted a letter to the Hall on March 29, 2006 indicating it would pursue returning the Alpha Lands to the original zoning that included education. The land had been downzoned in 2001 as part of a blanket rezoning of all RS1 land in the community.
During the past six years we have held focus groups and met with every group that invited us to give details of our proposal. We listened and incorporated many of their suggestions. We met with the First Nations to listen to their educational needs. We also worked hard to gain partnerships that would bring two of B.C.’s finest institutions (UNBC and BCIT) to the Whistler U campus. BCIT happens to have the longest waiting list of any post-secondary institution in B.C.
Meantime, municipal staff recommended that the council hire a consultant to examine post-secondary education in Whistler. Rather than hire someone who truly understood B.C. education, they hired a statistician from Toronto who produced a report that suggested an institute approach to post-secondary.
On April 5, 2012 Whistler U submitted a re-zoning package to the staff in accordance with standard practice. We presented at council’s committee of the whole meeting on April 17 and were well received and told that council would deal with the proposal with dispatch because they were “open for business.”
We should not have felt so optimistic. Staff produced yet another report for council, which was delivered last week and which council unanimously endorsed. It calls for a nine-month community engagement process to discuss what post-secondary education should look like in Whistler.
It also calls for the hiring of another consultant to act as project manager. At the council meeting the mayor said we would be contacted by staff to tell us the disposition of our re-zoning package. Needless to say, we were not contacted, so our architect had to call to ask — we were told we would receive an e-mail explaining our re-zoning proposal was on indefinite hold. No e-mail has yet been received.
The whole process and our treatment suggests to us that our confidence in the new council changing the way staff in the planning department operate may be misplaced. We truly hope not.
In response to the council’s action, I have received incredible support asking that we not abandon our proposal. One citizen, at his own initiative, set up a Facebook page to support the proposal, which, in less than a week, has over 360 members. I want to thank all of those who seem so passionate about our intention to bring a world-class campus to our community.
However, I will not be meeting with the landowner, who has many options, until next week, so I cannot say if the proposal will continue to be pursued. I will not be in Prince George until July 12 to meet with one of our partners who will obviously be disappointed.
I would like to be very clear that we support proper process and we support public engagement. That is why we were following all the municipal rules with regard to our re-zoning request. However, we do not believe nine months is needed to undertake the engagement process. We are surprised we are again hiring extra staff to undertake the process, as this is contrary to what we heard from the candidates who were elected.
We also believe the process should be considering the three proposals that we understand are currently active. Instead, there will be even more delay as the staff report calls for a proposal phase after the nine months. Finally, we believe the process needs to address education as an economic development issue not a land planning issue. There are clearly defined processes to deal with the latter.
So the bottom line: I cannot yet answer the question of whether our $250 to $300 million investment is still available. It would help if council would consider a shorter timeline for the consultation process. We believe seven months is more than enough time.
We wonder how the task force will be chosen and we think the trust deficit with staff also needs to be addressed. We would like some assurance that we would receive fair treatment and, in the end, our re-zoning proposal would be handled like any other submitted by a landholder.
Again we thank so many of you for your support. We were in the process of updating our website and will try to keep you informed at www.whistleru.com and on Facebook.
Whistler U Project Director