Houghton rezoning sparks debate 

Glenn and Larry Houghton will be allowed to build 5,000 square foot homes at Taluswood, in exchange for a $300,000 donation, but what that means to the affordability, sustainability and credibility of Whistler was the focus of an intense debate Monday.

Whistler council voted 4-2 to give the Houghtons’ rezoning application third reading, with Mayor Hugh O’Reilly also supporting the move. But opposition from Councillors Ken Melamed and Dave Kirk generated a 45-minute debate about the direction Whistler is going, particularly in relation to large homes. That led to a separate motion, passed unanimously, that the municipality develop a policy to direct the tax revenue from homes over 3,500 square feet toward making Whistler more affordable.

By one estimate there are more than 200 lots or parcels in Whistler where homes greater than 3,500 square feet could be built. In addition to areas such as The Peaks and Horstman Estates, which are specifically zoned for large houses, there are more than 80 sites on RR1 zoned property.

Melamed started Monday’s debate by saying large homes run contrary to key principles in the municipality’s Vision 2002 document: sustainability and affordability. He cited American resorts where property values have skyrocketed as trophy homes got bigger and bigger. In some towns schools have closed because families could no longer afford to live there.

"Affordability is difficult to address but one course of action is to not hasten an increase in property taxes," Melamed said.

The Houghtons sought to increase the size of the houses allowed on their two lots, from 3,500 square feet to 5,000, through a provision in the Local Government Act that allows municipalities to provide bonus densities in return for community amenities. The Houghtons will provide a $300,000 cash amenity; $250,000 to the future Spring Creek day care and $50,000 to Millennium Place.

"The irony," Melamed said, "is day cares may become redundant if we allow this continued gentrification."

Large homes also run counter to the Natural Step program Whistler is about to adopt, Melamed argued. Among the principles advocated by the Natural Step is that resources be used fairly and equitably.

"Credibility is an issue for us. This rezoning challenges the goals of or own Vision document," Melamed said.

Councillor Nick Davies countered that gentrification was not an issue in this case because the property is in a new neighbourhood and not displacing anyone. He also suggested that the two Houghton homes would not have an impact on the average value of homes in Whistler as the real estate market is segregated into several categories.

"The danger here is that we are attempting to engage in social engineering," Davies said. "In my view that’s what (Melamed’s) argument is. Who are we to say what standard of living people should have?"

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