They asked staff to see if the density can be reduced, but Whistler council Monday gave every indication they intend to give third reading to the 19 Mile Creek employee housing proposal when it comes back before them on April 6.
Before more than 60 members of the public, most of whom sat through nearly three hours of business before 19 Mile Creek came up on the agenda, councillors one by one expressed their belief that the site was suitable for employee housing and that employee housing was essential to the future of Whistler. Several councillors spoke of the lessons learned about employee housing during their tour of Colorado and Idaho resorts last fall.
"The resort tour was a look at our future if we don’t build employee housing," acting mayor Ken Melamed said.
"Councils have been discussing affordable housing for 10 years. When I looked at our future I became more and more concerned this has to happen, we have to build employee housing — soon.
"It’s needed in order to achieve preservation of our community," Melamed added. "It’s the only reason I can think of for raising the bed unit cap. I don’t think we should do it for a private university, for the Olympics or even for the environment."
Melamed and Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden both expressed frustration with some of the arguments against the 19 Mile Creek project presented at the March 9 public hearing. Melamed prefaced his remarks by saying he always thought the apartment buildings in the project were too large and the project too dense but he became so upset with some of the arguments at the public hearing that had "lost sight of where we are" that at one point he was ready to forego his concerns and approve the project as it was proposed.
"I’ve calmed down now. I think there are density issues and massing I’d like to see reduced," Melamed said.
Wilhelm-Morden said the need for affordable housing is "a no-brainer. All we have to do is go to Pemberton and see all the people who used to live here.
"The need for affordable housing exists. We need housing if we are to preserve Whistler as a real town," she said.
Wilhelm-Morden pointed out that council had a housing needs assessment done last year to prove the need for housing, rather than relying on gut feelings. The study concluded that affordable employee housing was a "serious and worsening problem" and that it was structural, not cyclical.
Councillor Ted Milner also mentioned last fall’s resort tour and said he was convinced Whistler needs "non-speculative employee housing" and that it needs to be interspersed in all subdivisions.
Councillor Kristi Wells noted the 19 Mile Creek project has changed substantially since it was first proposed, due to public input. She suggested the "passion of opponents has been fuelled by misinformation, and that’s council’s problem.
"I don’t believe a lot of people have an issue with affordable housing, I think they have an issue with growth," Wells said.
Councillor Stephanie Sloan said she has always thought the density of the project has been too high.
"The people speaking out against this are the backbone of our community," Sloan said. "They are not against employee housing. I’d like to see the form and character changed and have it come back for another public hearing."
However, Sloan voted with other council members to defer third reading until staff can discuss reducing the project’s density with the developer.
The motion also included consideration of a day care in the project, the municipality hiring its own consultant to look at flood-proofing measures, another examination of the project’s impact on traffic, confirmation that the project will be insurable, and consideration of a resident property manager in the apartment buildings. However, those conditions will be addressed at fourth reading, which is usually a formality, rather than third reading.