Employee housing at the end of Rainbow 

Municipality and landowners sign a non-binding agreement for development

Whistler is one step closer to seeing an extensive employee housing/residential project on the Rainbow lands.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed between the municipality and the landowners, Whistler Rainbow Properties Ltd., detailing the project and the expectations from both sides.

"It's an overall agreement at the highest level (to) give the property owners some indications of what council will consider," said Mayor Hugh O'Reilly. "You really have a basic agreement in place which you're taking forward and believe the community could support."

The project is a large-scale development on the 45-acre Rainbow lands north of the village, between Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates.

The deal as proposed will see a wide range of employee housing opportunities, including 70 single-family homes, 50 townhomes, 40 duplexes 48 rental condos and 16 rental apartments.

The project also includes market housing in the form of 35 single-family homes and 16 townhouses.

There will be a seniors housing component with 40 units, both for rent and purchase and both price restricted and market.

Along with housing there could be other developments on the land, such as a gas station, fire hall, a small grocery store, a coffee shop and a day-care facility.

O'Reilly pointed out that the deal still hinges on the community's support.

"I think on the surface it looks exceptionally well but we want to get the community's input," he said.

"If the community can support it then we have an agreement between ourselves, but we have to listen to the community. So there are no binding agreements by the municipality."

The landowners are working to have all the rezoning approved by September 2005. If that happens the developers could begin work in 2006 and build the housing in phases until 2010.

A press release from the company states that the project "will strive to be an innovative, well planned, green and integrated local resident neighbourhood."

The Whistler Green Standard, a set of green building guidelines developed by the Nita Lake Lodge and a variety of consultants, will be used to build the housing.

This project could essentially meet Whistler's growing employee housing needs until the Olympics. Beyond that, the athletes village will turn into resident housing if needed. There are now more than 450 residents on the Whistler Housing Authority waitlist.

Housing Expeditor Steve Bayly initiated the Rainbow deal, bringing together both sides. It was his idea to draw up a memorandum of understanding, which though somewhat unusual, is a way of allowing both parties to define their expectations and know what they're getting into.

"I'm very excited that they're going to move ahead and get on with the master planning of it," said Bayly.

With the deal sealed up to this point, Bayly is hanging up his housing expeditor hat.

In early December he was hired by the municipality to pursue employee housing opportunities over a six month to one year time frame. Since then he has brokered the Rainbow project as well as a deal to put 30 live/work residential units in the north end of Function Junction. That proposal should be coming before council soon.

"What was supposed to be six months to a year, we got lucky and it was two months," said Bayly.

The Rainbow lands have long been on the back burner as a potential place for a housing development. A small group has owned the land for almost 20 years.

It was the back up location for the Olympic athletes village but was dropped due to security concerns.

"We knew it was a good property," said O'Reilly. "It's a very significant project. It'll provide a tremendous amount of resident housing."


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