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A successful formula and an option

Anyone studying the formula that has made Whistler a successful resort community will eventually come across the concept of warm beds – beds that are occupied nightly by visitors, as opposed to beds that remain empty when the owners aren’t

Anyone studying the formula that has made Whistler a successful resort community will eventually come across the concept of warm beds – beds that are occupied nightly by visitors, as opposed to beds that remain empty when the owners aren’t using them. Warm beds aren’t the only reason Whistler has been successful, but they help make the village a vibrant, interesting place and the heart of the town.

Aspen, Ketchum and Jackson are popular resort towns that are all looking at revitalizing their downtown areas through infill development. Tailoring infill development to a town’s particular needs is, of course, much more difficult than finding a new tract of land outside the town core and building whatever is needed there. Introducing anything new into an existing neighbourhood is always a test of patience and democracy.

A story in the Aspen Times earlier this month described how each of the above towns faces pressures to allow development on land outside the central core, but government officials in each town understand the importance of keeping people in the downtown area.

Ketchum, particularly, is looking to house tourists in the downtown area after years of allowing tourist beds to be built out on the periphery of town. A hotel proposed for the downtown area was recently scaled back after a public battle because it didn’t fit with the form and character of the existing buildings. But it will be the first hotel in the downtown core.

"We want density, we want people in our downtown," Harold Moniz, Ketchum’s planning director told The Times.

Jackson and Aspen, meanwhile, are trying to stimulate infill proposals with an emphasis on resident housing. "I think a lot of communities are going through what we, and Aspen, are trying to do downtown," Tyler Sinclair, Jackson’s senior planner, told The Times. "The most significant challenge we’ve had is to get mixed-use development, and especially residential development, downtown."

At the same time, Jackson and Aspen are both grappling with development proposals on the edge of town that would create additional housing, but also additional sprawl.

Back in our neck of the resort woods, Whistler Village has its problems but the fundamental concept of keeping the core area alive and vibrant through warm beds is still in place, and remains part of the foundation for Whistler’s success.

Whistler has also spent considerable energy over the years ensuring that residents and employees are housed in existing neighbourhoods, rather than in isolated enclaves. Employee housing and resident-restricted housing projects have been integrated – successfully – into most residential areas. In fact, resident-restricted housing has in many instances helped build and maintain a sense of neighbourhood, just as warm beds have helped the vitality of the village.

So where will the next resident-restricted housing be located? A study evaluating potential sites is about to get underway. There is also the 300 acres of Crown land the municipality has secured from the province as part of the deal for hosting the 2010 Olympics.

The assumption is that 300 acres will be in the Callaghan valley, although that has never been spelled out. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said last fall the 300 acres will provide "options upon options upon options" for housing.

One of the biggest obstacles to building affordable housing is the cost of land, which is why the 300 acres is so attractive. But the municipality already owns a large chunk of land much closer to the village and the Valley Trail. It’s flat, immaculately landscaped and has 18 holes.

Now before members of Arnie’s Army hunker down in a bunker and start sending drives this way, let me explain. The idea is not to get rid of the Whistler Golf Course but to move it – to the 300 acres in the Callaghan.

A new golf course in the Callaghan could be everything that the existing Whistler Golf Course is, including revenue to Tourism Whistler. But what moving the golf course would do from a community perspective is open up options, for housing and other community needs, by making land available.

It wouldn’t mean filling the entire golf course with housing – it wouldn’t be needed. Some of the land could be returned to its natural wetland state and housing could be built in phases, as it is required, and in a way that would integrate with neighbours.

The idea also fits Whistler’s sustainability initiative. Having residents and employees living next to the village, where most work and the infrastructure is already in place, makes financial sense and keeps the village vibrant. And why not have golfers commute from the village to the Callaghan rather than employees commute from the Callaghan to the village?

It’s an option that follows a successful formula.