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Bye, bye, bed cap? Whistler gives first readings to provincial housing bill

Bill 44 ramps up density possibilities, while removing public hearings
Housing density in Whistler is set to increase in the years ahead thanks to provincial Bill 44.

Whistler’s mayor and council gave first three readings to a small-scale, multi-unit housing (SSMUH) bylaw—in line with provincial Bill 44, related to municipal density requirements—at the May 14 council meeting, with all the complexities that come with it.

Once adopted, the bylaw will enable development of auxiliary residential dwelling units (on all parcels), triplexes (on parcels 280 sq. m or less) and fourplexes (greater than 280 sq. m) on all single-family lots in Whistler and beyond.

“The overarching provincial objective is to facilitate opportunities for people to build good lives in their communities, secure the foundation of the local economy and deliver more homes for people, faster,” said planner Joanna Rees in a presentation to council.

In Whistler, about 3,470 properties are affected by the new legislation, spread across 40 “zones,” Rees explained. Of those, 281 have a minimum requirement under the new legislation to allow for an auxiliary dwelling unit, 211 will permit triplexes, and a whopping 2,978 will be eligible for the full fourplex upgrade.

Local governments must not use their authority to “unreasonably prohibit or restrict the use or density of use” permitted under the legislation, Rees noted—meaning there will be no public hearing on the new bill, and council won’t be fielding comments or questions on it from the public (at least not on the official record).

The proposed bylaw provides ample flexibility in terms of the housing types delivered, Rees explained, with permitted housing types including detached dwellings, duplexes and townhouses, apartments, and attached and detached auxiliary residential dwellings.

A parcel permitting four dwelling units could use multiple different configurations to achieve that number, Rees said.

Given Whistler’s high proportion of second homeowners, the proposed bylaw also includes “tools” to ensure a proportion of any new housing units created under the bylaw are supporting local housing.

“Additionally, with the intent of creating more homes for people, the proposed bylaw will result in no increase in tourist accommodation units,” Rees said.

Potential further impacts of the SSMUH legislation will be explored through a “bylaw-testing process,” Rees added, though council raised some concern with stretching that testing out too long.

Following a densely detailed presentation from staff (watch it in full at to soak in all the finer details), Coun. Ralph Forsyth asked the question on everyone’s minds.

“Is there anything about this that keeps you up at night?” he asked staff.

The expedited timeline proved difficult, responded technical director of planning Mike Kirkegaard.

“We’re trying to do something good, that’s impactful, and it’s complex, and there’s quite a lot to it,” Kirkegaard said. “So we’ve tried to take a measured approach. This does affect 3,500 parcels of land in our community. We think a measured approach is appropriate.”

Much of the discussion from the council table focused on bylaw testing and financial incentives, which general manager of climate action, planning and development services Dale Mikkelsen said the RMOW hasn’t fully explored.

“We haven’t looked at any financial incentives … the incentive is the ability for somebody to simply add an additional unit to their existing home, which provides them an opportunity for additional income if they wanted to rent that,” Mikkelsen said. “Presuming they could do it in an affordable manner, that would have a payback of, let’s say, 15 or 20 years—that’s a reasonable addition to their mortgage. We haven’t done those economics. That’s part of the bylaw testing.”

As far as bylaw testing goes, it’s possible some homeowners in Whistler are waiting for the perfect opportunity to redevelop or downsize, Mikkelsen said.

“They now have the opportunity to stratify, subdivide and receive revenue off of land that potentially they’ve already paid for years ago,” he said. “So there’s probably a great economic opportunity that supports staying in place within our community in a retirement model.”

The unknown in that equation is the speculator, or developer role, Mikkelsen added.

“I don’t know yet until we do the bylaw testing what it looks like for somebody to purchase a piece of land, tear down the home, and then develop it as a fourplex. I don’t know if the economic case is there yet,” he said.

“We’ve seen both Vancouver and Victoria implement similar bylaws over a year ago with very little uptake in the speculation development world, because the economics aren’t there. But I’m not totally convinced that’s the market we’re after on Day 1; we’re looking really at opportunities of building additional housing for our community and for people within our community.”

On that note, Coun. Arthur De Jong raised perhaps the second most-pressing question: what does all of this mean for Whistler’s bed cap?

“We’re somewhere around 57,000 bed units, headed to 61,500, plus all the needed employee housing to stabilize our community—now this kind of sledgehammer legislation gets thrown at us,” De Jong said. “Is our bed cap demolished by this?”

The bed cap has been a useful tool to envision Whistler’s size, future growth, and infrastructure needs since “the get-go,” Kirkegaard said.

In terms of the current SSMUH legislation, “any of these projects that come forward would count towards the remaining bed units available, which is approximately 500,” Kirkegaard said, adding it remains to be seen what the provincial legislation will call for in next 20 years, or what the local need will be.

“And that’s something that we’ve been working on with the Balance Model and many, many conversations with council and staff, as to what is our employee-housing needs,” he said.

“And we need to satisfy that need.”

After a discussion spanning well over an hour (and delving deep into the density weeds), Mayor Jack Crompton proposed a revised resolution, with an eye to speeding up the related bylaw testing so builders can get shovels in the ground rather than waiting for the perfect deal.

“We are not interested in constructing a whole bunch of new second homes,” Crompton said, adding tools like housing agreements and rental tenure zoning are “critical” to ensuring more homes are delivered for people.

“Though both tools are exactly what we need, I think they do risk slowing down the uptake … so I’m supportive of these recommendations, but I don’t want to set up a scenario where our building community is waiting for some future date when the best opportunity to build multi-unit will come to the table,” the mayor said.

“So in adopting this and then being quick about how we consider the bylaw testing, I think we can get the full set of encouragements to build multi-unit housing into the world early, and then we can meet those goals of building more homes for workers, more homes for people who live here.”

Check back with Pique in the weeks and months to come for much more coverage of Bill 44 and its implications in Whistler.