Growth Management

Chapter 4

What it’s about

Ensuring land use and development are effectively managed to reinforce sense of place, protect the natural environment, provide a high quality of life and provide exceptional experiences for visitors.

By focusing on the qualities that make Whistler unique and special, and recognizing our limits to growth, Whistler continues to prosper and maintain its position among the leading mountain resort communities in the world. Through conscious and coordinated efforts, Whistler effectively applies its growth management framework and land use policies to maintain a special blend of community and resort, in balance, connected by mountain culture and deeply held appreciation for Whistler’s mountain environment.

The natural environment that sustains our local biodiversity, provides our connection to nature and sustains Whistler as an attractive mountain destination, has been protected by carefully managing the amount of development, its location, and design and construction, and proactively preserving sensitive areas. This has been achieved by applying a combination of the Whistler Urban Development Containment Area (WUDCA), Whistler Land Use Map and Designations (Schedule A), accommodation capacity limit, criteria for Evaluating Proposals for OCP and Zoning Amendments, and development permit area designations and guidelines, implemented through Whistler’s land use and development bylaws and processes.

Through these tools, and effective community planning (for housing, mobility, recreation, health and wellness, education, and arts and culture), Whistler is able to sustain a robust tourism economy and a highly livable community where residents are able to enjoy a high quality of life and strong sense of belonging. Whistler’s thriving community and protected natural environment provide a strong platform for sharing all that Whistler stands for and has to offer.

Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains continue to be Whistler’s biggest draw, leading the way in innovation and investment in resort recreation offerings. This investment complements the resort community and helps sustain Whistler’s ongoing attraction. The success of the resort and Whistler’s tourism economy underwrite the quality of life that community members enjoy and also contributes significantly to the provincial economy, as well as the prosperity of the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation.

Through careful study, collaborative planning and adopting the concept of a balanced resort and community capacity, Whistler is able to balance the qualitative or experiential aspects of Whistler with the capacities of its infrastructure and systems. The accommodation capacity, measured in bed units, has been carefully managed, and new employee housing provides opportunity for Whistler’s employees to live and work in Whistler, attracting and retaining a stable workforce. The bed base also maintains a diverse and secure supply of high quality visitor accommodations that are available for our guests, and have sustainable occupancies, which support ongoing rejuvenation. Along with our growth management tools, Whistler’s resort and tourism partners work to optimize visitation and utilization of Whistler’s resort community infrastructure within comfortable levels. Whistler is known as a progressive community that considers the ecological footprint of its activities and seeks ways to conserve and minimize use of natural resources.

Important to Whistler’s ongoing success, the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation realize economic benefits in a tangible way, sharing in Whistler’s economic activity and development. Collaborative engagement with the Nations through the Protocol Agreement has also resulted in a greater presence for the Nations in Whistler and a broader awareness of First Nations culture and history.

Community members, First Nations and stakeholders, including Whistler Blackcomb, convene regularly to review community priorities and collaboratively consider and pursue new opportunities that advance Whistler’s progress towards its Community Vision.

Endowed with tremendous natural assets, and two world-class ski mountains, Whistler’s success as a resort community is largely attributable to strong and careful planning and significant investment in infrastructure. Since its incorporation in 1975, the municipality has managed growth and development through its OCP policies and land use regulations to control the location, amount, type and character of development. The foundations of Whistler’s success included early decisions to locate a single town centre—the pedestrian-oriented Whistler Village—at the base of the ski mountains; to secure a core supply of warm beds for Whistler’s visitors; and to establish uses that supported the day-to-day needs of both residents and visitors.

Whistler has experienced tremendous growth and development over the past 43 years, establishing itself as a major international mountain destination and resort community. This period has been characterized by the development of on-mountain recreation facilities, residential and visitor accommodation, commercial and light industrial centres, service infrastructure, seasonal amenities, community facilities and restricted housing for Whistler’s employees.

The 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games-related infrastructure, competition venues and legacies, as well as two new mixed-use neighbourhoods and new industrial lands, have added to the resort community’s development footprint.

Since 1993, the last update of Whistler’s OCP, Whistler’s developed accommodation capacity measured in bed units has grown from 32,085 to 55,491 bed units at year-end 2017. During the same period, the amount of developed commercial space has grown from 1.17 million square feet (108,700 square metres) to 2.56 million square feet (237,800 square metres).

Whistler’s accommodation capacity includes a mix of accommodation types dedicated to visitor accommodation, residential accommodation and employee housing. Approximately 45 per cent (or 26,000 bed units of Whistler’s bed base) is zoned for visitor accommodation. Of this, there is a core hotel accommodation bed base of approximately 7,900 bed units. Through its innovative approaches to achieving employee housing, Whistler has secured 6,430 bed units dedicated to employee occupancy, representing 12 per cent of the total bed base.

With a total approved accommodation capacity at year-end 2017 of 61,561 bed units, Whistler has now reached 90 per cent buildout of its approved development capacity. Close to 40 per cent of the remaining capacity is dedicated to employee housing, primarily in the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.

After experiencing an economic downturn subsequent to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler more recently has experienced a sustained period of record-breaking visitation, with average annual occupancy rates for Whistler’s core visitor accommodation base growing from a low of 48 per cent to nearly 70 per cent. With strong increases in summer and off season visitation, Whistler now has reached just over 3.3 million visitors per year.

Whistler has also experienced a significant increase in its permanent population, adding 2,140 permanent residents over the past 10 years, growing from a population of 9,702 in 2008 to 11,840 in 2017. Combining Whistler’s permanent population, seasonal population, overnight visitors and day visitors, Whistler’s total daily population equivalent has grown from 25,962 in 2008 to 36,306 in 2017, with a peak occupancy estimated at 55,000.

This growth in Whistler’s visitation and daily population has translated into an overall level of “busyness” that has strained some of the capacities of Whistler’s ability to accommodate this level of activity. Local businesses are experiencing a shortage of employees, which affects service levels and employee quality of life. This is largely attributable to increasing employee numbers and a shortage of housing. Traffic congestion and lack of space in Whistler’s schools for the growing student population are areas of concern. To address these concerns, the municipality has worked with community members through Council-appointed task forces and community forums to develop strategies and implement priority initiatives. Recent transportation initiatives have been impactful and further work is planned to respond to highway and local congestion. In response to community housing challenges, significant progress is being made on the development of 1,000 new employee units.

Whistler is now realizing the potential of its existing developed capacity, and community members and stakeholders have expressed concern over the ultimate size of the community and further growth, which impact the unique characteristics of the resort community; demands on the natural environment and its ecosystems; infrastructure and services capacity; economic vitality and sustainability; quality of life; and the capacity of the resort community and its surrounding area to provide enjoyable experiences for visitors and residents.

The ongoing development and improvement of summer and winter recreation on Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain are major contributors to Whistler’s success and evolution. Potential development of on-mountain facilities, as contemplated within the provincially approved Master Plan Updates and associated Master Development Agreements (MDAs) for Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, and potential base area developments on Option Sites, are important to consider within the overall development capacity of the resort community. The integration of this activity is important to maintaining a comfortable and balanced resort and community capacity.

In addition, the municipality is working with the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation to explore opportunities for their further participation in Whistler’s ongoing success.

This OCP calls for periodic review of land use and development potential, which will involve ongoing community engagement and input, as well as engagement with First Nations and stakeholders including Whistler Blackcomb. Whistler residents have expressed a strong desire to protect the fundamental framework of this OCP, including the community-determined growth management measures, while supporting Whistler’s ongoing evolution as a balanced resort community.

Click the ‘Objectives & Policies’ to display additional content.

4.1. Goal Land use and development are effectively managed to maintain Whistler’s unique sense of place, protect Whistler’s natural environment, provide a high quality of life for residents and provide exceptional experiences for our visitors.

4.1.1. Objective

Reinforce and enhance Whistler’s mountain community character. Policy

Carefully manage the geographic extent of Whistler’s urban development and the amount of land converted to development. Policy

Continue to locate Whistler’s urban development within the Whistler valley corridor between Cheakamus Crossing and Function Junction to the south, and Emerald Estates to the north. Within this corridor maintain a comprehensive network of natural areas, open space and parks that separate and provide green buffers between developed areas. Policy

Maintain residential accommodation, visitor accommodation, commercial, light industrial, institutional and community facilities development within the area shown in Schedule A, designated as the WUDCA, and apply the following policies:

(a) retain the majority of the area within the WUDCA as natural areas, open space, parks and green spaces;

(b) protect and, where possible, restore natural areas critical to healthy ecosystems and local biodiversity;

(c) protect unique natural features, scenic viewscapes and scenic corridors including mountain slopes, ridgelines, lakefronts, the highway corridor (20 metre buffer) and significant rock outcroppings;

(d) limit the scale and intensity of development to fit with the mountain environment and reflect a human scale;

(e) in general, maintain building heights in residential neighbourhoods to fit with the surrounding context;

(f) allow taller buildings in core commercial areas and neighbourhood centres, scaled appropriately for the surrounding context;

(g) manage the scale of commercial units to support diversity and variety, and unique local businesses;

(h) maintain outdoor public spaces in all developments sized to accommodate the resident and visitor populations;

(i) maintain a high quality of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture that are complementary to the mountain environment;

(j) strive for high standards of green building with efficient use of resources and renewable energies; and

(k) recognize the need for wildfire risk reduction measures within and adjacent to developed areas that may require tree removal, tree thinning and landscape alterations. Policy

Recognize and reinforce the importance of the history and cultural character of Whistler associated with the authentic place of Whistler, including the rich history, culture and spiritual values of the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations. Policy

Support the goals and policies of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) through the following:

(a) Work collaboratively with SLRD member jurisdictions to support the goals of the RGS as described in the Regional Context Statement presented in Chapter 1: Introduction and Planning Context.

(b) Support directing future urban development within the region to existing municipalities and planned community settlement areas.

(c) Recognize lands within WUDCA and within the Whistler Blackcomb Whistler Master Plan Update Option Sites, as shown in Schedule A, as being included in Whistler’s settlement area for the purposes of the RGS.

(d) Preserve the natural character of lands outside of the WUDCA and the Whistler Blackcomb Controlled Recreation Area (CRA).

(e) Support low impact outdoor recreation activities and carefully managed resource uses including timber harvesting within the Cheakamus Community Forest outside the CRA and the WUDCA. Seek to ensure best management practices and compliance with applicable Crown land regulations, avoid impacts on critical natural areas and protect Whistler’s water sources.

(f) Work collaboratively with the Province, Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation on provincial Crown land use and management.

4.1.2. Objective

Strive to achieve and maintain a comfortable, balanced resort and community capacity, supporting a progressive sustainable tourism-based economy while protecting the natural environment and reinforcing Whistler’s mountain community character. Policy

Recognize the need for a balanced and integrated resort and community capacity that includes physical, social and environmental considerations. Policy

Recognize and understand the importance of the Whistler experience to the success of the tourism economy, and the interplay of the natural environment, history, regional culture, shopping, architecture, arts and culture, food, sport, recreation, leisure, group and family experience, with a strong and vibrant community. Policy

Work collaboratively towards both Whistler and the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations benefitting from the local tourism economy and complementary economic development and capacity building opportunities. Policy

Recognize and plan for Whistler’s daily population equivalent, comprised of permanent and seasonal residents, part-time residents, overnight visitors in paid accommodations, overnight friends and guests, and day visitors. Seek to understand and strategically manage each of these segments, and their associated needs, consistent with the desire for a balanced resort and community capacity. Policy

Recognize the cyclical nature of Whistler’s tourism economy and the significant visitor bed base within Whistler’s existing approved and developed accommodation capacity. Continue to monitor visitor numbers and accommodation use, and seek to sustain comfortable occupancy levels that support ongoing reinvestment in accommodation properties. Policy

Continue to work collaboratively with resort and community partners and stakeholders, including Whistler Blackcomb, to target sustainable visitation levels that provide for a strong economy and are within a comfortable carrying capacity, taking into consideration the qualitative aspects of the Whistler experience, and quantitative aspects such as infrastructure capacities and housing needs. Policy

Seek to instill an appreciation and respect for Whistler’s mountain environment and community culture. Policy

Recognize Whistler’s residential and visitor accommodation capacity as a key factor of resort and community growth. Recognize the significant capacity that is already approved, and has not yet been fully developed. Policy

Continue to maintain an accommodation capacity limit measured in bed units, consistent with the following:

(a) Recognize the existing approved accommodation capacity estimated at approximately 61,500 bed units.

(b) Allow for up to 1,000 additional bed units for various initiatives to address Whistler’s current critical shortage of employee housing. Continue to monitor ongoing housing needs and evaluate proposed developments relative to the municipality’s rezoning evaluation criteria.

(c) Support the additional development capacity associated with the proposed development of Kadenwood lands by the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation for low to medium residential development, with a capacity of up to 332 bed units. Recognize this initiative as important to reconciliation.

(d) Provide regular updates on the accommodation capacity inventory, and review treatment of auxiliary residential dwelling units within the accommodation capacity. Policy

Strategically manage municipal lands and actively consider future acquisition opportunities to achieve municipal purposes and objectives. Policy

Optimize the use and function of existing and approved development. Support flexibility, diversity, adaptability and efficiency in land use and development, so the resort community can derive the greatest benefit from existing development and minimize the conversion of natural areas to development. Policy

Seek creative solutions for optimizing land use and respective interests such as land exchanges, dedications, amenity zoning and transfers of development rights. Policy

Ensure new land use and developments are complementary to existing development and add to Whistler’s success. Avoid expansion and duplication that contributes to oversupply, diminishes the success of existing uses and development, and creates unacceptable impacts on the resort community. Policy

Encourage and help facilitate needed reinvestment, renovation and redevelopment of aging properties, in particular in Whistler’s core commercial areas, as a means of enhancing the Whistler experience and individual building performance, both of which are recognized as public benefits. Policy

Do not support land use and development proposals that will have unacceptable negative environmental, social, health or economic impacts. Policy

Maintain cost-effective and efficient delivery of infrastructure and services.

4.1.3. Objective

Work collaboratively to integrate the development of recreation activities and associated recreation improvements in a sensitive manner within the CRA. Policy

Generally recognize the critical importance of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain recreation offerings and their ongoing success to Whistler’s mountain character, visitor economy and community lifestyle. Policy

Generally support ongoing investment and innovation in on-mountain recreation improvements. Support a high quality of development, recreation experience and environmental sensitivity. Policy

Recognize the need for a balanced resort and community capacity. Policy

Consider the interrelationships between development of on-mountain improvements, the associated visitor capacities and visitor experience, and the associated demands on the community related to employee needs, population growth, housing, visitor accommodation, commercial and light industrial uses, parks and recreation, community facilities and services, transportation, water supply and infrastructure—all of which affect the overall extent of development within the community, community character, the broader visitor experience and quality of life for Whistler residents. Policy

Recognize the Whistler and Blackcomb Master Plan Updates (dated 2013), and the associated 2017 MDA for each mountain approved by the Province of British Columbia. Apply an open and comprehensive approach to considering existing and proposed activities and developments identified within these plans and agreements, including the following:

(a) Recognize the long-term benefits to Whistler associated with these plans and agreements, which apply for a 60-year period, and help to provide certainty for ongoing investment and a sustainable visitor economy including benefits to First Nations.

(b) Recognize ever-changing visitor expectations, new technologies, and the evolving nature of the Whistler community and the tourism economy, and examine future development proposals with an open mindedness.

(c) Recognize the economic development interests of the Squamish Nation, Lil’wat Nation and Province in the long-term successful operations and development of the Whistler Mountain Resort and Blackcomb Mountain Resort, as well as the success of the Whistler resort community as a whole.

(d) Recognize the commitments within the MDAs, which identify the applicability of municipal authorities and bylaws, and specifically address: the requirement for municipal approval for new development of accommodation; balanced resort capacity; environmental requirements; employee housing; archaeology and heritage; provincial parks; public recreation; municipal sewer system; traffic and parking; health care facilities; and fire prevention and protection.

(e) Recognize that protection of the natural environment relative to Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain operations and development within the CRA is addressed by the provincial government through the Master Plan approval process and the approved MDA for each mountain, which specify ongoing environmental requirements. Avoid duplicative environmental review and permitting processes.

(f) Generally support complementary multi-season outdoor recreation activities and associated facilities such as lifts, trails, snowmaking equipment, serviced pathways, support utilities, maintenance facilities and service roads approved in the Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain Master Plan Updates. Consider potential impacts associated with such facilities.

(g) Recognize existing indoor day use and indoor recreation facilities, including existing day lodges, restaurants and commercial facilities. Evaluate and require rezoning approval for any significant expansions to existing facilities and any new facilities to ensure that such developments complement and enhance Whistler as a whole.

(h) Recognize that the Whistler Mountain Master Plan Update identifies Option Sites that may be acquired from the Crown for new base area developments. There are seven Option Sites, shown in Schedule A of this OCP. The proposed “South Base” development would require a substantial investment by Whistler Blackcomb in recreational infrastructure and servicing on Crown land and has the potential to add significant additional lift staging capacity and new skiing terrain with a new access road and staging route up Whistler Mountain from Cheakamus Crossing. The plan also identifies significant parking facilities, potential day skier and commercial facilities, and the potential for development of accommodation.

(i) Given the location, scale and nature of development, any proposals for development of the South Base or any of the other Option Sites would involve careful consideration with significant community input to ensure clear and substantial benefits to both the resort and the community as a whole, and no unacceptable negative impacts on the community, resort or environment. The Option Sites are located outside of the WUDCA, and development in these areas would require an OCP amendment and rezoning to amend the WUDCA and provide for proposed uses.

4.1.4. Objective

Provide an adequate amount and variety of land uses and development in appropriate locations to meet the diverse needs of the community and the resort. Policy

Maintain a land use plan that designates the general land uses that are supported by this OCP for each parcel of land within the municipal boundaries. The current land use plan is shown in Schedule A. Policy

Land use designations presented in Schedule A provide a general indication and preferred location of intended future land uses. The plan establishes general categories of land use designations providing some flexibility for more detailed zoning and development permit guidelines that are customized for specific parcels of land to meet the goals, objectives and policies of this OCP. Uses listed are for general guidance only and do not exclude temporary uses, special events, festivals, and uses similar to those listed activities. The land use descriptions with associated examples do not represent a complete list of future intended uses. Furthermore, planning, management and future consideration for development of designated lands are subject to the municipality’s policies and development permit guidelines. Any references to density are guides for general massing and approximate development density. OCP land use densities do not regulate actual densities on individual lots; this is the function of the Zoning Bylaw. Council may, at its discretion and subject to a public hearing, consider Zoning Bylaw amendments to permit additional density where the proposed development is otherwise consistent with the objectives and policies of the OCP. Council may also enact a zoning bylaw that legalizes a lawful non-conforming use despite any land use designation in Schedule A. Policy

Community facilities, utilities, parks, schools, daycare facilities, places of worship, home occupation and live-work uses may be located anywhere within the municipality subject to municipal zoning requirements and any additional regulatory approvals and permitting criteria, giving consideration to the policies contained in this OCP. Policy

Periodically review community and resort land use and development needs to determine if there are any types and amounts of additional development or changes in land use that are appropriate, necessary or regarded as likely to yield clear and substantial benefits to the community and the resort. If this review identifies types of development that should be considered, the municipality will consider amending the OCP which will include significant community engagement. Policy

Recognize the interrelationships between various land uses, community growth and comfortable carrying capacity. Policy

Integrate compatible land uses where appropriate to enhance community livability and walkability. Policy

Work with appropriate agencies and stakeholders to plan for and preserve appropriate lands needed for health care, school and daycare facilities. Policy

Respect and reinforce Whistler’s single town centre concept, complemented by designated sub-centres each with a defined role, scale, mix of uses and development character, as established in the Commercial and Light Industrial section of Chapter 5: Land Use and Development. Policy

Support diverse, attractive residential neighbourhoods with varying densities and dwelling types that provide needed housing, fit the natural landscape, are separated by green buffers and conservation areas and are linked by trail networks that also access key destinations. Policy

Consider infill housing sensitive to existing neighbourhoods to help address the housing continuum and Whistler employee housing needs. Policy

Support home-based businesses that contribute to resident affordability, complement the local economy and do not negatively impact neighbourhoods. Policy

Reinforce land use and development patterns that support the: objectives set out in Chapter 11: Transportation and Chapter 12: Infrastructure; greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption targets; and efficient use of infrastructure and services. Policy

Develop sub-area plans when appropriate to address evolving resort and community needs for specific areas of the community and to use as the basis for any proposed changes in land use and development that alter Whistler’s overall pattern of land use and development. Consider sub-area plans for Whistler Creek, Function Junction and Whistler’s light industrial areas.

4.1.5. Objective

Protect human safety and property from natural hazards. Policy

Proactively implement initiatives for effective prevention of wildfires and structure fires including Whistler’s community wildfire protection plan and comprehensive emergency management plan. Policy

A hazard assessment report prepared by a qualified professional may be required for applications for zoning amendments, subdivision and building permits. Policy

A wildfire hazard assessment report prepared by a qualified professional in accordance with FireSmart® guidelines may be required for zoning amendment and subdivision applications. Policy

Develop and maintain development permit guidelines for the protection of development from wildfire. Policy

Ensure all development is protected from flood hazards to the standards accepted by the Province and qualified professionals.

4.1.6. Objective

Apply clear and consistent criteria and processes for proposed land uses and developments that require an OCP or zoning amendment.


The criteria contained in this section will be used to evaluate all proposed amendments to the OCP and the Zoning Bylaw for the purposes of allowing development or a change in land use. Policy

Recognize the designations and processes for consideration of future development and land use proposals for specified lands, as identified in Schedule B, in which the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation have fee simple land interests. Policy

Proposed OCP amendments or rezonings that increase the accommodation bed unit capacity, alter the WUDCA, or alter the Whistler Land Use Map and Designations (Schedule A) will include significant community engagement, and should only be supported if the proposal:

(a) provides clear and substantial benefits to the community and the resort;

(b) is supported by the community, in the opinion of Council;

(c) will not cause unacceptable impacts on the community, resort or environment; and

(d) meets all applicable policies set out in the OCP. Policy

All proposed developments must meet the following conditions:

(a) the project must be capable of being served by municipal water, sewer and fire protection services, or by an alternate means satisfactory to the municipality;

(b) the project must be accessible via the local road system, or by an alternate means satisfactory to the municipality;

(c) the project must comply with all applicable policies of the OCP; and

(d) all proposed developments and changes in land use must be evaluated to the satisfaction of the municipality to assess impacts on:

i. balanced resort and community capacity;

ii. overall patterns of development of the community and resort;

iii. the character of Whistler’s forested mountain environment, including preservation of green buffers, views, scenery and distinctive natural features;

iv. Whistler’s sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity;

v. scale, character and quality of development;

vi. compatibility with the surrounding area or neighbourhood;

vii. quality of life of Whistler’s residents;

viii. quality of experience for Whistler’s visitors;

ix. geotechnical, flood and wildfire hazard;

x. archaeological, heritage and cultural resources;

xi. traffic congestion and safety, including traffic volumes and patterns on Highway 99 and the local road system;

xii. local economy;

xiii. municipal finance;

xiv. social, health, recreation, education and emergency facilities and services;

xv. employee housing; and

xvi. community energy and GHG emissions, water supply and conservation and solid waste.

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