Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Maxed Out: The genie is out of the bottle, in Whistler and beyond

'There’s nothing in the collective consciousness of Tiny Town that envisions, embraces or supports that kind of growth, right?'

Let’s suppose you were walking along one of the trails around Lost Lake on a nice spring day. We’ve been having quite a few nice spring days lately so this shouldn’t be too much for you to imagine. In fact, if you haven’t walked around the Lost Lake trails yet, you probably should. And while you’re at it, heed the esteemed Leslie Anthony’s advice and kick over some stacked rocks left behind by Instagrammers.

Where was I? Oh yeah, nice spring day, walk around Lost Lake... so let’s suppose you weren’t really paying much attention to where you were stepping, distracted as you were by the olfactory assault of spring—thawing earth, uncovered leaf mould and doggie presents, emerging skunk cabbage, the simultaneous drying and composting of last autumn’s riot of death. Not paying attention, you stumble, regain your balance and composure, and catch a glimpse of something tarnished but vaguely shiny protruding from the path from whence you just came. The culprit!

In a momentary fit of pique, you kick at whatever it was that nearly slapsticked you, stub your toe but partially unearth, what else? A lamp. Not a nondescript table lamp with a flickering compact fluorescent bulb, but an oh-sweet-Jesus-there-must-be-a-genie-in-there kind of lamp. You know... like in the fairy tales.

What would you do?

Well, you’d rub it of course. Duh. Maybe after sneaking a look around to see if anyone was watching, but nonetheless, you’d rub it. Hope for the best.

Poof! Vapour oozes out of the lamp, reminiscent of the B.C. bud you just smoked and coughed out, and you assume you’re hallucinating as it coalesces into the shape of, well, what else? A Genie.

You: “Whoa, dude!”

Genie: “Thank you; I’ve been cramped in there since the Before Time.

You: “You… you’re a genie?”

Genie: “How observant of you, Einstein.”

You: “So, like I get three wishes.”

Genie: “No, that’s like only in fairy tales.”

You: “Well, what do I get?”

Genie: “Why do you assume you get anything? Everybody’s so greedy. Grant me a wish, grant me a wish. Tiresome.”

You: “Because I released you from the lamp, dude.”

Genie: “Right. Thank you. Now that I’m free at last, free at last, it’s your turn. You get to live in the lamp now, like forever, dude!”

You: “What!? That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”

Genie: “Just yankin’ your chain.”

You: “Whew. You had me goin’ there. So what do I get?”

Genie: “You don’t get anything. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do instead. I’ll unleash the biggest real-estate development this town’s seen since, well, since this town itself was built. It’ll increase the population by, say, 20 per cent... for a start... assuming it all works according to plan. And you won’t have to worry about whether it fits within the Official Community Plan, the outdated Whistler 2020, the—muted laughter—bed cap or any of the other nonsense you think is going to save your town from becoming much, much larger. Whaddya think?”

You: “Are you shittin’ me? You sure I can’t have just one wish? A little one? Maybe a new bike.”

Genie: “Take it or leave it. But hurry up and make a decision. Just kidding. The decision has already been made.”

And with that, the genie rose into the sky laughing and slapping his vaporous knee.

So that’s a no-brainer, right? We’d leave it, right? There’s nothing in the collective consciousness of Tiny Town that envisions, embraces or supports that kind of growth, right?

Not so fast. We may not have much of a choice in the matter.

At the end of November last year, the provincial legislature gave royal assent to Bills 44 and 47. The former amended housing statutes concerning residential development. We’ll ignore the latter for the time being.

The purpose of Bill 44, according to Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s Minister of Housing, is to deliver more homes for people, faster. The way it does that is not to conjure more home builders out of thin air. Instead, the bill removes pesky municipal and community roadblocks—like zoning—that have historically been used to control the way those communities grow. An intended or perhaps unintended consequence has been to give homeowners, particularly owners of single-family homes, a louder voice in blocking rezoning decisions.

As though Minister Kahlon had his own genie, poof, those impediments are gone.

Bill 44 requires municipalities of more than 5,000 people to allow redevelopment on lots currently zoned for single-family homes. Lots smaller than 280 square metres will be permitted to build three housing units. Those larger than 280 square metres will be allowed four units.

How does that affect Whistler? Good question. Almost entirely. Every lot will be permitted three and a significant percentage of lots will be permitted four units.

Oh, and those tedious, lot-by-lot public hearings where homeowners would get up one after another and claim they were in favour of more housing... just not anywhere near their house? Gone. Through the Official Community Plan, blanket rezoning for what is deemed Small-Scale Multi-Unit (SSMU) housing is the new norm. No need to do more than give public notice.

So, questions, questions, questions. Let’s say you own a home in a part of town currently zoned for tourist accommodation, that is, short-term rentals. And your lot is large enough to allow four housing units. Will all four be zoned for tourist accommodation? I imagine all those hotel-like structures on the resort lands would be very unhappy were that the case.

Regardless of whether the new SSMUs were on resort lands or not, would any of the four or three be restricted to employee ownership or rental, depending on whether they were redeveloped as strata-title or not? If so, would there be any price or rental restrictions on the units designated for employees?

There is no language in the Bill permitting a municipality to impose such restrictions. There is another designation that allows up to six units to be built on the larger lots if they’re close to transit stops with frequent service. Apparently none are in Whistler, but in the case of a six-unit re-development, municipalities may designate one of the six for “affordability” purposes. That might be considered a leverage point. Time will tell.

This is all happening pretty fast and it may be a good thing. Or maybe not. While the goal of providing more homes for more people is a good thing, I’m pretty sure the province wasn’t aiming to provide more second homes in resort municipalities for people who could afford them.

Here’s hoping for a benevolent genie.