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Bed cap still leaves lots of room

More than 8,000 beds still to be developed

A theme that has been repeated often in recent years is that Whistler is quickly reaching its development cap - that with the addition of Cheakamus Crossing, Rainbow, Fitzsimmons Walk and Nita Lake neighbourhoods the resort is more or less "finished."

However, as was revealed at an Official Community Plan (OCP) workshop for council two weeks ago, there are still a lot of beds to be built.

Including employee-restricted bed units, Whistler's development cap is estimated at 61,234 bed units, of which 53,038 have been built. That's just over 86 per cent of our self-imposed limit. Some 8,196 bed units across Whistler are still to be developed, which could equal an additional 2,000 dwellings. That number includes 327 vacant single-family lots.

Mike Kirkegaard, manager of resort planning for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, stresses that bed units are an approximate measurement based on the number of lots, the buildable space on those lots and the zoning.

The bed unit figure doesn't include commercial or industrial space, which may include caretaker suites.

Kirkegaard explained that a review of bed units was necessary as Whistler goes through the process of updating its OCP.

"Fundamental to the whole OCP is how we approach future growth and development," he said.

"(During the last OCP process) in 1993, the community said we think we have enough approved capacity at this point in time, and that in the future we would only really consider additional rezonings if there were extraordinary circumstances and  an exceptional community benefit.

"Over the years there have been rezonings to add to our accommodation capacity, but most of that was really just to achieve resident housing and meet our target which was set out in Whistler 2020, and that's the goal of housing 75 per cent of our workers in the community."

The bed unit cap, which the RMOW uses to measure accommodation capacity and associated servicing and facilities requirements, has been extended several times over the years but only a handful of times for market housing. For example, in 1999 the RMOW gave 476 bed units to Intrawest as part of the deal to acquire the Emerald Forest. Those bed units were rolled into the Four Seasons Resort.

The Rainbow development, which is primarily employee housing, was granted 208 market units to help fund the construction of resident-restricted beds.

The Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations development at Baxter Creek, located above Rainbow, was allocated bed units from the existing market capacity on Government of B.C. Crown land, as well as proposed zoning changes to private lands that resulted in fewer market bed units being developed.

Kirkegaard said that many of the remaining bed units might never be developed, or may not be developed for many years. For example, there are parcels in existing neighbourhoods where owners may have one house on two lots. Also, Phase 2 of Cheakamus Crossing will only be built if there is enough demand for additional resident-restricted housing. As well, densities could change - if the demand is for single-family homes rather than townhomes or condos, that could subtract from the bed cap.

The remaining development lots are distributed throughout Whistler, said Kirkegaard.

For example, at year-end of 2009 there were 16 low-density detached market lots remaining at Cheakamus Crossing Phase 1; 34 single-family and 16 multifamily market lots at Rainbow; and 89 single-family, duplex and multifamily lots at Baxter Creek that had not been built.

There are 20 low density single-family lots remaining in Spring Creek; plus 42 of the same type of lots in Kadenwood (the Peaks), 21 at Stonebridge, seven at Nita Lake Estates and three at Cheakamus North.

There are four single family market lots in Nordic-Taluswood, two lots in Alpha Creek, 13 lots at Alta Vista-Lakecrest, four lots at Alta Vista, six lots in Bayshores, eight lots in Brio-Sunridge Estates, 10 lots in Blueberry, 11 lots at Whistler Cay Heights, two lots at Whistler Cay Estates-Crabapple, six lots at Nesters-Treetops, five lots on Blackcomb-Horstman Estates, three lots in White Gold, five lots at Nicklaus North, 12 lots in Alpine Meadows and 21 lots in Emerald Estates.

Under the Tourist-Accommodation designation, allowing nightly rentals, there are eight dwellings (32 bed units) in Alta Vista Lakecrest Townhomes; 13 dwellings (39 bed units) at Village North-Lot 9 Whistler Celebration Plaza; eight dwelling units (36 bed units) in Blueberry, 39 lots at Nicklaus North-Cypress Place; 14 dwelling units (60 bed units) at Nicklaus North-Glen Abbey Lane; and 39 dwelling units (64 bed units) at the Hillman Property on Alta Lake Road.

The biggest single Tourist-Accommodation zoned property remaining is part of the tennis lands to the north of Whistler Village being developed by Holborn. Current zoning for that project includes 400 market hotel units with 837 bed units, plus 27 resident-restricted dwelling units with 108 bed units - including seniors housing proposed for the site. That project has been working through a rezoning process to the change the type of accommodation but was placed on hold in 2009 due to economic considerations.

The RMOW's bed unit count also doesn't include development just outside the municipal boundaries, including the 180 lots at the Wedge Woods development to the north of Whistler. There is also a proposed development in the Soo Valley.

As to when Whistler might be expected to reach its cap, it's anyone's guess. The number of permit applications to build new homes dropped off in the months leading up to the 2010 Olympics, but started to pick up again afterwards. And while the economy is having an impact, the number of building permits issued has remained steady, with many permits issued to renovate existing properties.