Updated: Revelstoke council postpones treehouse hotel decision

After four hour meeting, council postponed a decision on the proposed treehouse hotel development until Wednesday.

Tom Gaglardi

After a 3.5 hour public hearing and 30 minutes of discussion, council postponed a decision on the proposed treehouse hotel development until Wednesday, July 27, at noon.

“What I’m looking for is a little bit more time to think about his because it is a major decision,” said councillor Scott Duke before tabling third reading.

David Evans is proposing to build a treehouse-style hotel on an 18-acre property on Camozzi Road adjacent to Revelstoke Mountain Resort. RMR has opposed it from the start, calling it a “parasitical development” and accusing Evans of trying to develop a second resort village they say will be harmful to the resort and community.

Evans says his development would be a unique attraction that would attract people to town and would complement RMR.

The public hearing was a momentous affair, with more than 100 people coming out and several passionate speeches delivered both for and against the Treehouse Hotel.

Northland Properties showed how seriously they were taking the matter by sending several bigwigs, including Tom Gaglardi, the president of Northland; Graham Rennie, the president of RMR; Rob Toor, Northland’s lawyer; and Peter Nielsen, the vice-president of resort operations.

Psyche Brown, a retired senior manager from the B.C. Government’s resort development branch, was recruited to speak in favour of Northland’s position that ski resorts need a monopoly on base area development in order to be successful in the long term.

Evans was the first to speak. He defended the scope of his application, saying that his initial remarks two years ago were for the treehouse hotel, but that this application was for the whole property. He initially said the treehouse hotel would consist of about 25 accommodation pods around a central lodge. The application now includes the possibility of multiple hotels.

I didn’t think it was quite this difficult but I’m happy to see the high level of support and turnout today,” he said.

He accused Northland of spreading misinformation with its letters to the city, the DevelopRevelstoke.com website and phone surveys. Notably, he denied claims by Northland he is trying to build a second base village. “So we are clear, there is no village,” he said.

Gaglardi touted his company’s investments in the resort, saying they spent $150 million on it to date and saved it from bankruptcy in 2008. He called it an “important investment” for his family and stressed their commitment to the community.

“We are not perfect, we have made mistakes for sure, but we are committed to Revelstoke,” he said. “The world will always be uncertain, but I know one thing for sure: we can only afford to invest in the mountain by selling real estate on the mountain.”

Brown, who was the government manager that oversaw RMR’s development, said mayor and council should “uphold the principals of the Master Development Agreement” and not approve the hotel, which she said could threaten the viability of the resort.

“Without real estate sales to provide capital, the resorts stop growing. It’s very difficult to keep resorts growing in the first few years. It’s not a licence to print money,” she said.

Robert Powadiuk, who was part of the group that spearheaded the development of RMR a decade ago and who still owns a small stake in the resort, said the city would be making a “serious, serious error and do grave harm to itself” by approving the treehouse hotel application.

“For council to allow this planning abomination to proceed would be a complete betrayal of the foundational concept of the Master Development Agreement, whereby the city and the resort are to act as true partners by valuing one another, and not by one betraying the other,” he said.

Fred Beruschi, the owner of the Regent Inn and Best Western Plus, said council should honour past commitments to the resort by not approving the treehouse hotel. “We promised whoever developed this through a gentleman’s agreement that we would protect the basis on how they build these lifts. That was on real estate development and the hotels,” he said. “It’s important to the integrity of the City of Revelstoke to maintain that commitment.”

The sentiment wasn’t only against the treehouse hotel. Glenn O’Reilly said the city needs more hotels and said this would be a “unique hotel that would draw people to town.”

Peter Humphreys said RMR should take the initiative to build its own hotels. “If (Evans) builds 800 rooms and you put a better product on the hill, then he’ll fail,” he said. “It’s not up to us who decides to fail”

Steven Cross, the owner of Revy Outdoors and one of the leaders of the anti-highway mall campaign, also encouraged council to approve the treehouse hotel.

“I just don’t get the panic and fear (Northland is) exhibiting when they’re the first mover, gate keeper and have way more resources than anybody else,” he said. “I find it very hard to believe that any hotel currently in town would have anything to fear from this development. You guys have all the time in the world to take advantage.”

Peter Bernacki urged the Gaglardi’s to be more involved in the community. “Come drop the puck at hockey games,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lew Hendrickson, the owner of Vic Van Isle, reminded attendees of the numerous tradespeople that were owed money by Northland from the time they took over the resort. “I find it ironic this big powerful conglomerate is asking for mercy from the city to do a development. If David is willing to put the money in and do the development, what’s wrong with that?” he said.

Bruce Allen warned of the long-term consequences of the re-zoning, saying that even if the Evans were honest in their intentions, a future owner of the property could take advantage of the proposed zoning’s comprehensive wording.

“You change this zoning, you don’t change it back. They die, the zoning’s there. They go bankrupt, the zoning’s there. So what’s the hurry?” he said.“I sure hope you guys have talked to the lawyers before you make this decision because we’ve already been sued a couple of times when it comes to this resort and we don’t need it again.”

Shelley Evans, David’s wife and partner in the project, spoke passionately about their commitment to the community. “We are not competition, we are not parasitical,” she said. “We are complementary to your resort. We will bring visitors to your ski hill. We will bring year-round visitors. It’s not just about the Gaglardis. Its about the people in this town, it’s about the people that live here. It’s about being pro-active and building something really special.”

When it came time for council to debate the application, councillor Scott Duke suggested a compromise motion that would only re-zone five acres of the property for the treehouse hotel and leave the rest for single-family residential. He said it would be a “win-win.”

Coun. Gary Sulz supported his idea, but it also resulted in numerous questions. “My concern right now is what the implications will be for the developer,” said coun. Aaron Orlando.

“For us to change the rules of the game without some consultation with staff is of major concern to me,” said coun. Connie Brothers.

Coun. Linda Nixon moved to give the re-zoning application third reading, but council balked. Duke then moved to continue the discussion in council chambers on Wednesday, July 27, at noon.

Stay tuned for a report on the results of the special council meeting.