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White Gold affordable housing project finally set to advance

Nearly half a decade and several revisions later, Nancy Greene Drive project headed for public hearing
Nancy Greene Affordable Housing Renderings 5
An artist’s rendering of the 36-unit apartment building planned for White Gold.

After nearly half a decade of waiting, an affordable housing project in Whistler’s White Gold neighbourhood is finally set to move forward.

On Sept. 20, Whistler’s mayor and council gave first and second reading to a rezoning bylaw for the project, which now proposes a 36-unit, three-storey apartment building on the corner of Nancy Greene Drive and Highway 99.

A public hearing will follow.

“The applicant team has worked hard to deliver an attractive building that responds to the site and to the neighbourhood context, and is aligned with Whistler’s design guidelines,” said Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) planner John Chapman in a presentation to council. 

“The building has been revised and evolved to better address the guidelines for private sector employee housing rezoning proposals [and] Whistler’s design guidelines, as well [as] to take into account feedback that was received during the community engagement period.”

The existing zoning on the currently-undeveloped site allows for a single residential dwelling.

All 36 units in the proposed building will be rental, with half of the units offered at below-market rates. The affordable units will be eligible for people on the Whistler Housing Authority’s rental waitlist. 

Since its first iteration, submitted to municipal hall on Jan. 9, 2018, the project has been through several design changes, and has shrunk significantly. The initial proposal had about twice the apartment units—65 compared to 36 in the current proposal. As it now stands, the proposal would include 99 bed units in total. 

The original plan was to offer all units at below-market rates, but rising construction costs have made market units a necessity.

“Our cost per net rentable square foot has gone up 50 per cent,” said Innovation Building Group founder and project proponent Rod Nadeau. 

“Some of that is inflation, and changing it from 65 units to 36 units increases our cost per square foot, because we have less square footage and less units to divide the half-million-dollar soft costs for architecture and design, which is basically the same when you’re doing 20 units or 100.”

Nadeau and his team at Innovation Building Group are well regarded in B.C. as one of the province’s most energy-efficient builders.

A 2020 cost analysis study of the firm’s all-electric Orion building in Pemberton conducted by the Zero Emissions Building Exchange found it to be one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the province at just $148/square foot.

The process for the White Gold rezoning has been exhaustive and lengthy. With an election on Oct. 15, followed by a public hearing and a development permit application process, Nadeau expects the building won’t start construction for at least another year or two. 

The original proposal attracted some local opposition from residents concerned with its scale and the effects it could have on the character and the parking situation in the White Gold neighbourhood. 

During the first engagement period, the RMOW received 147 pieces of correspondence from the public, Chapman said.

“There was certainly support for employee housing in this location,” he said. “Some of the concerns and opposition included concern about building size and density, the potential for increased delays in traffic, impact on privacy, and environmental concerns.”

Some of the proposed building changes include reducing the project’s height and density and increasing the amount of parking to a minimum of one stall per dwelling unit, along with a parking management plan. 

While all councillors were enthusiastic about the housing project moving forward, Councillor Jen Ford voiced disappointment that the original proposal of 65 units was changed in favour of the smaller building.

“I think it’s actually a brilliant model. I’m sorry it’s just 36 units. I’d love to see more,” she said.

“I understand the challenges with parking. I think that we’re hopeful with the parking management plan and allowing for the reduction in parking spaces definitely brings us closer to affordability.

“The longer we waited, the more expensive it got,” she added.

“Let’s get it across, and let’s get it in the ground because this is great. It’s close to everything.”