If all goes as planned, Whistler’s Official Community Plan (OCP) could be getting an update as soon as this summer.
With an update to the all-encompassing guiding document identified as a 2018 action — ahead of the 2018 regular election scheduled for the fall — the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) council is one step closer after recently endorsing an engagement strategy to include the community, First Nations and other stakeholders in the process.
Exactly what form that engagement would take is, however, yet to be determined, though a mandated public hearing will be part of the process. The community vision and OCP update will be carried out in three parts between January and June of 2018, with some aspects occurring simultaneously.
But as Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden pointed out, this won’t be the first time the public has been consulted regarding an OCP update in recent years.
The document, crucial to guiding any public policy decisions made by the municipal government, was last revamped and adopted by council in 2013, following provincial approval. Shortly thereafter, that plan was struck down by the the B.C. Supreme Court, citing a failure by the province to sufficiently consult with local First Nations.
Aside from thousands of hours of work forced onto the backburner, that decision also required the municipality to revert back to the last version of the OCP, originally put forth in 1993.
“The 1993 OCP has been a very good workhorse for us, that’s for sure,” Wilhelm-Morden said with a laugh, “but there are some cumbersome things that have to be done with development variance permits that we were hoping with the 2013 OCP we’d be able to avoid.”
With external factors and economic conditions making Whistler a vastly different town than it was in the early ‘90’s, an update is well overdue, she added.
“It had 2,500 hours of citizen and stakeholder time and engagement invested in it, so a substantial amount of work was done, but the external factors are very different than they were back in the consultation phase of that particular OCP,” Wilhelm-Morden said, citing record-breaking visitation levels, a steady increase in economic activity, and a flip in the American dollar’s value, amongst others.
“We’ve had issues with resident housing now that weren’t really a concern at all back in 2010/2011, transportation issues we haven’t seen for decades, a new B.C. government, we’ve got a new… federal government, the First Nations interests are quite considerably different now than they were back in 2010/2011,” she continued. “It’s those factors that need to be brought to bear in looking at the OCP.”
Where working off of the 1993 OCP could become especially problematic is when it comes to any future developments that would require re-zoning of lands.
“We haven’t been faced yet with any new development that has required an OCP amendment, but for example, if the Holborn property came into municipal hall for rezoning, that would require an OCP amendment. If there were any other large land developments that were wanting to come in for consideration, they would all require OCP amendments. None of that has occurred since the court threw out the OCP, but it’s only going to be a matter of time before we see some of those come in.”
While Wilhelm-Morden admits the proposed June timeline for adoption is “ambitious,” she’s confident with the amount of work that has already been completed. “We’re going to have to carry on with discussions with the community and all of the stakeholders. In looking at the 2013 OCP… there’s not actually a lot of language, when you look in the various chapters, that has to be changed — maybe 10 per cent in total. I think this is doable.”
This time around, the RMOW has also gotten a head start on discussions with stakeholders, including local First Nations, Whistler Blackcomb, and the province ahead of the planned update. Discussions have been ongoing since this past October, with two meetings having been held so far, said Wilhelm-Morden.
“From my personal perspective, I think they are going very well,” she said.