The sun illuminates a thick fog hanging low in the valley on the first day of October, as the second phase of Whistler’s Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood rings with a chorus of construction noise.
Electricians, plumbers, roofers and framers add to the near-completed skeleton of a new 46-unit apartment building, while the foundation takes shape for another 54 units right next door.
Whistler Councillor Duane Jackson leads the way to the top floor of the first building, greeting various tradespeople on the way up, and from there we take in the morning sunshine and the view of the worksite below.
“There’s a big landscape area between the buildings—you’ve got quite a big area of separation, and that can be a play area,” Jackson says, surveying the scene from a window frame.
“So all of this becomes just outdoor landscaped play area, community garden, whatever people want to make it to be.”
All units in the building will be available for purchase to those on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) waitlist, with a planned move-in date of July 2022.
Jackson leads the way back to ground level and beyond the two builds under construction. Just up the road, a backhoe with a hydraulic hammer cracks blasted rock into movable chunks to be processed and trucked back to the site to be used for fill.
Beyond that, a small crew prepares an underground blast to accommodate the servicing for 18 market-for-sale lots.
We wait on top of a treed knoll for some time as a backhoe piles blasting mats in anticipation of the dramatic explosion.
After 10 honks from an air horn, the charge is set off and the mats jump slightly upwards with an anticlimactic thump.
“Pretty uneventful,” Jackson says, almost apologetically.
Eventful or not, the work now underway signifies progress on Whistler council’s No. 1 priority: building housing for locals.
Early advertising for the market lots is underway, which Jackson estimates will cost about $1.4 million on average.
With their favourable sun exposure in both the morning and afternoon, and the Cheakamus River rushing past immediately behind them, the lots are already garnering major interest.
“It’s a lot of locals, and a lot of realtors who have clients, or customers that are looking for something,” Jackson says of the calls he’s been fielding.
“There’s quite a bit of interest just from people that know Cheakamus, people that live in some of the existing market housing … people who they know the neighbourhood and they maybe want to upsize a little bit.”
Once the two apartment buildings underway are finished, servicing the market lots will be WDC’s next priority, “so that people can plan to build next year. They’ll know that the services are here,” Jackson says, adding that the timelines are important, so people can do their planning work this winter with an eye for construction in summer 2022.
“I don’t think there’s any reason that we can’t make that,” he says. “It might be late summer, but next year.”
Once fully developed, Cheakamus Phase 2 will add about 295 units of employee housing, not including 18 market lots.
A $10-million loan from the Resort Municipality of Whistler included in its 2021 budget will be exhausted by the end of the month, but new financing is en route courtesy of the Royal Bank of Canada, said Eric Martin, chair of the Whistler 2020 Development Corp (WDC), the municipal subsidiary tasked with developing the land.
“We’re really actually in good shape [with financing],” Martin said.
WDC is doing two loans through RBC, the first for up to $14 million to cover infrastructure, servicing work, an extension of Mount Fee Road and the subdivision of the market-for-sale lots, as well as some of the apartment buildings now under construction.
“That will take us into the new year sometime, and then we’re going to do a second loan,” Martin said, adding that the amount is not quite pinned down yet.
“But that will be concluded before the end of the year—probably November—and will probably fund into early next year sometime.”
With more than 800 names on the WHA purchase waitlist, WDC’s directors are confident the 100 new units will be snapped up quickly, selling in price ranges that are “way under half-market” and with favourable financing options.
“Financing rates are so low these days that you’re probably going to look at your mortgage payments being quite a bit less than rent, or certainly no more than rent … I think that’s going to be attractive,” Martin said, adding that pricing for both the units in the new buildings and the market lots is being worked on right now, and was expected to be confirmed at WDC’s Oct. 14 board meeting, after Pique’s weekly press deadline.
While the RMOW will need to sign some documents related to the RBC loan as the legal owner of the site, the municipality is not acting as a backstop to the loan, Martin said.
And while Whistler’s mayor and council waived the subdivision security fees for the development at their Sept. 7 meeting—estimated at about $3.7 million—neither Jackson nor Martin see the project as risky for local taxpayers.
“No risk to taxpayers. These lots will sell, I have no doubt about that,” Jackson said.
“The final price, well, the market determines that, but it’s more than enough to let us continue, and to ultimately repay the debt.”
Asked for his take, Mayor Jack Crompton also expressed confidence in the current direction.
“When local government prioritizes things, they invest in them. This is a priority that we are going to invest in, and we’re going to invest in over the long run,” Crompton said, adding that he doesn’t speak to too many locals who don’t list housing as a top priority.
“So it’s a commitment we make as a community, and it’s a long walk in the same direction. We’re moving towards investing in workforce housing over the long run,” he said.
“We build on a foundation of years of incredibly thoughtful, innovative work by organizations like the WDC, WHA, and our own municipal staff, so we’re building on a good foundation.”