Editor’s note: A version of this letter edited for length appeared in Volume 17 Issue 8 of SPIN.
Over the past few years, a few property owners have asked “Why was Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPM) incorporated with an appointed councillor?” In B.C., there are very few municipal governments with an appointed councillor; it is indeed a rare occurrence. To the best of my knowledge, the Resort Municipality of Whistler is one of the few municipalities that was initially established with a provincially appointed councillor.
In Sun Peaks, four of our councillors are elected, and a representative of Sun Peaks Resort Corporation (SPR) is appointed by the Province. This is how the Province envisioned collaboration between the municipality and SPR and itself. The Sun Peaks Governance Committee made up of mostly Sun Peaks residents strongly recommended that the Province appoint a representative because of the Master Development Agreement with the Province.
Why recommend this? SPM was realized under the Mountain Resort Associations Act of B.C.
This Act allows for the formation of Mountain Resort Tourism Associations, Mountain Resort
Improvement Districts and Mountain Resort Municipalities. The Act came into law on July
14th, 1995 as a result of a proposal made by SPR’s parent company, Nippon Cable. Nippon
Cable purchased Tod Mountain in 1992 and sought Provincial approvals for its development
master plan. As part of the resort approval process, Nippon Cable had to identify the long term ski lift plan and calculate the ultimate carrying capacity in terms of comfortable skier capacity per day. At the same time, they were required to develop a base area or village plan that outlined the beds and services needed at each stage of mountain expansion.
Under the Commercial Alpine Ski Policy (today known as the All-Seasons Resort Policy), Nippon Cable entered into an agreement with the Province that established the plan for future development. Under the agreement, Nippon Cable earns the right to exclusively develop those lands proposed as base area in the approved Master Plan. The Provincial Policy guides a balance between lift capacity and the number of beds and services needed to serve the forecasted skier capacity. The approved Master Plan also identifies the density and type of land development that is permitted. In summary, it is the Province of British Columbia that approves the conceptual land use and establishes the maximum permitted lift capacity and the number of pillows or beds required to serve that lift capacity.
During this provincial approval process, SPR owners recognized that eventually Sun Peaks
would become more than a ski area; it would become a community. SPR therefore encouraged the Province to consider legislation that would enable mountain resort communities to become special municipalities when they reached certain population levels or when the total assessed property values were sufficient to cover the costs of local government.
SPR’s development vision recognized that one day the collective investments of the community would exceed its total investment in lifts, buildings and infrastructure. It also acknowledged that at some future point in time, local government would be of benefit to property owners and residents. SPR was aware that Municipal incorporation would mean that there would be a transfer of local decision making from the TNRD to the new municipality, the objective to create an opportunity for more collaboration and better decision making between SPR and the community.
About 1995, the Province approved the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Improvement District to
assume the responsibility for fire protection, street lights and solid waste collection issues. The water and waste water utilities owned by SPR remained as private utilities at that time. In 2006, the Improvement District approached the Province to suggest that local governance was timely and should be considered. In 2007, the Province agreed to this request and assisted the Improvement District with funding to assess the feasibility of municipal incorporation. A Governance Committee was formed with about 15 community members and the Committee was co-chaired by Ines Popig, the president of the Improvement District and Darcy Alexander of SPR. Over the next 18 months, a consultant assisted the community in assessing its financial and administrative capabilities to manage self-government.
As part of this local Governance study, the Committee recognized that with the Provincial Ski Resort land use approval process and SPR’s rights to purchase Crown Lands for base area development, it was important that there be representation of either the Province or SPR or both at the council table to be certain that these commitments were clearly understood. Without the development company or the Province at the table, it would be difficult to arrive at a well-informed land use decision because the Municipality was not a party to the Sun Peaks Development Agreement. The Governance Committee understood that a new municipality would not be allowed to frustrate the Provincially approved Master Development Agreement and that the Sun Peaks Official Community Plan had to reflect all commitments made by the Province as well as the rights of SPR. It also understood that land use zoning and Official Community Plan decisions would be a Municipal responsibility. Obviously, there are overlapping responsibilities and commitments, and this required a unique solution. The Governance Committee also recognized the important role of SPR as the driving force in the development plan. A number of options were reviewed, and it was concluded that the best option would be to have a representative of SPR sitting at the council table. The Committee proposed that a SPR representative be appointed by the Province without the normal “conflict of interest” regulations. The exemption of “conflict of interest” only applied to the business of SPR’s activities and rights under the Development Agreement with the Province. Any personal “conflicts of interest” of the representative had to be declared. This recommendation was debated strongly at the time, but almost all members of the governance committee agreed that with SPR’s significant role in the community’s future, it was essential to have those interests at the table.
The appointed position represents only one vote on council and all decisions are made by
majority vote, or at least three members of council.
In reflecting upon the 2009 Governance Committee recommendations for an appointed council member, we now have nine years of experience. Council has only made a few decisions where there was not unanimity. The appointed Councilor has fulfilled the intended role to keep members of council informed of SPR’s vision and its rights under the provincial Agreement.
With a SPR representative at the table, Council has been able to make effective and informed land use decisions. We have seen strong collaboration between community and SPR interests.
The municipality was able to acquire land parcels through the SPR/provincial agreement at very favourable values. We purchased the Sun Peaks Health Centre site, the Sun Peaks Centre parcel and the park/sports field location east of P6. We are finalizing purchases of a future school site and the initial lands for employee housing. SPR also sold the pool/sports centre building to the SPM for a nominal value.
On the few occasions where some members of council were not in agreement with the position of SPR, there was debate and the final council decisions were taken in the best interest of the community at large. Most importantly, we have both entities working together and the entire process is public and very transparent. Speaking at the council table is far more transparent than ‘back room’ lobbying. From time to time, council may not agree with the position of SPR, however the council voting structure is fully public and protects the community interests; it has worked as originally intended. We have achieved considerable progress working collaboratively and community interests have always prevailed.