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Whistler council hoodwinked by VANOC's temporary use permits

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I'm still digesting what took place at last night's Council meeting in Whistler.

Not surprising, Whistler's council changed their tune in allowing temporary commercial use permits (TCUPs) for the 2010 Winter Olympics. VANOC usually gets what they ask for.

The Temporary Commercial Use Permit (TCUP) Bylaw 1877 "is intended to consider a number of temporary property and commercial uses leading up to and during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games." These temporary uses can include food and beverage outlets, retail, washrooms, media centre, adminsitration buildings, buses, snow clearing. Pretty much anything.

If we re-visit the Dec. 23, 2008 council meeting (held just two days before Christmas), council voted 5 to 1 not to pass third reading of the TCUP bylaw. Council was upset that VANOC scaling back the 2010 Celebration Plaza, the site of the nightly medal awards to reduce their operating budget.

Mayor Ken Melamed cast the sole vote in favour and told the media that "Council was being silly and that VANOC was running out of time."

Fast-forward to the Jan. 27, 2009 council meeting where mayor and council voted unanimously (7 to 0)to adopt the TCUP bylaw.

So what happened to change Council's minds?

A special visit from VANOC's top oficials may have played a role.

VANOC CEO John Furlong and Terry Wright, Executive Vice President - Service Operations and Ceremonies, were in Whistler yesterday for an in-camera meeting with Council and senior managers to discuss TCUPs. Once again, key decisions and secret deals were being made behind closed doors, far the public's view.

There was more at stake than just hotdog stands and stuffed animal sales at stake. In my conservative estimate, at an annual salary of $300,000, Mr. Furlong's fees alone would be close to $1,000 for the 2-hour meeting and travel time. Then add Mr. Wright's time and fees.

Although the public will never know what was said behind closed doors, it was no surprise that Council voted to adopt third reading of the TCUP bylaw.

The new bylaw will essentially provide VANOC with a key to Whistler's business core and allow them to erect food & beverage/retail tents at all venues and other choice locations, to capture as much of the spectator spending as possible. The IOC has been through this hundreds of times. It knows how to "play to win."

According to the TCUP Bylaw, "the new amendment bylaw would allow TCUPs to be issued in any zone except Protected Area Networks Zone One and the Leisure Conservation Buffer One."

Some councilors still believe that no TCUPs will be allowed in the Village area, to compete with local merchants.

But a closer look at Section 2.25.1 of the TCUP bylaw states: "Temporary uses related to or associated with the administration of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games" include but are not limited to."

It all comes down to the power of words. Most lawyers would tell you that "anything goes." Get ready for hot dog stands in front of Zogs and retail super stores on the Whistler Driving range selling every possible Olympic souvenir.

There were two other things that stood out at last night's meeting:

1. Council passed Bylaw 1821: Land Use Procedures and Fees Bylaw BEFORE third reading of the TCUP bylaw. Strangely enough, the power of Bylaw 1821 comes from TCUPs bylaw, yet it was voted on first.

By voting n Bylaw 1821, Council delegated the issuance of all temporary use permits to the General Manager and senior staff. This leaves our elected officials to deal with building wraps, large billboards (over 3 m2) and alcohol permits.

2. Councillor Eckhard Zeidler had been one of the most vocal opponents on the Celebration Plaza/TCUP issues added, "There is no simple way to wrap this up in a bow. Council used the Celebration Plaza as a whack on the head for TCUPs. Now that the Village area has been deleted as a venue, the village merchants are on their own. There will be no VANOC competition in the village. It's important that residents and visitors have the best experience they possibly can. The medals plaza was a focal point, but I will have to get over it. There's nothing to gain by continuing to weep over this. VANOC is prepared to work with the municipality to modify programs in dramatic ways to make the games better than ever. Once we take those fences down on Lot 1/9, let's all get in there and have a party! I am putting the spade down."

Whistler's mayor aded that Mr. Furlong reminded them this is the largest event ever hosted in Canada and is incredibly complex. VANOC has gone out of their way to accommodate Whistler and the recognition of the athletes will still happen in the village.

Mayor Melamed thanked VANOC for their "patience" on the TCUP matter.

I wonder much money it takes to "put down your spade or to feel less guilty about wasting VANOC's patience?"

This issue is far from over. The fun is only beginning.

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