I find the tone of G.D. Maxwell's editorial, "Home suite home" disturbing. The picture he paints of people who choose to buy a new holiday home is ugly; unprincipled speculators, creating black holes in our neighbourhoods, and tearing apart the fabric of the community. But fortunately for the most part it is not accurate.
Many, whether from the Lower Mainland, Alberta, Eastern Canada, the United States, or overseas, choose Whistler because they are looking for a safe, clean, exciting natural environment. A place where they can bring their families together, when they can find time in their hectic lives. A place where all generations, young and old, can have some fun together. I know of more than one couple that bought here after visiting their son or daughter while they were working here as lifties. Some are semi-retired and commute to the office only when necessary, trying to work their way out of the rat race. They choose Whistler because they like and respect our vision.
Whatever their reasons for buying here they all contribute to the community. The new houses that they build or buy are beautifully detailed custom homes. For the most part the talented tradesmen and women and businesses that build them are local. It takes a lot of people to build one of these fine homes. They are some of the best paying jobs in the valley. And because time is at a premium for many, they hire landscapers, decorators, cleaners, caterers, etc., and usually someone to manage these services. That makes it possible foe many families to stay in the valley.
All of us fortunate enough to own a place face a big property tax bill each year. Theirs are a lot bigger. And still some contribute to local charities, buy Founder's Passes and help to build churches, the Millennium Place, and the library and museum.
Mr. Maxwell wants us to force people to build suites in new houses on properties where a suite previously existed. I wonder how he would like to be forced to build a suite at his summer retreat, "Smilin' Dog Manner." I'm not a lawyer, but with this approach I can foresee the municipality, yet again, embroiled in expensive litigation. Why not encourage instead of coerce? If a lot is large enough to accommodate additional square footage without encroaching on setbacks and height restrictions why not allow an owner/builder extra square footage for an employee suite with price controls? People want large homes for their families and friends with games rooms, media rooms, and wine cellars. Granting additional space creates a win-win situation. The owner doesn't lose valuable space and the community gains more employee housing.
Some would say that people should not be allowed to live such extravagant lifestyles. Some members in our community, councillors included, use inflammatory, insulting terms such as "Filthy rich," "their monster homes," "their destroying our neighbourhoods" when referring to an important segment of our community. These same people often make at least part of their living from selling goods, building homes and providing services to the wealthy. In our society some people take risks, build businesses, generate new wealth, and provide jobs, and some of us are lucky enough to benefit from that wealth creation.
Let's work to make Whistler an open, inclusive community. We can find solutions that unite rather than divide.
Meet Max the Maker
Some of you that closely follow the Piques letters to the editor may recall earlier this year in one such letter where I referred to G.D. Maxwell as an Unmaker. I used the term Unmaker to describe someone whose actions, regardless of their intent, are destructive rather than creative.
Max can turn a line brilliantly. Usually at his best when its laced with cynicism. In my earlier letter I pondered the positive changes to Whistler and the world if Max found the courage to reclaim his idealism. If you have not read Maxs column in last weeks Pique, please do so.
With no cynicism, well maybe just a little, Max constructively addresses the housing/affordability issue and the threat to the community if its not tackled with "vision and backbone." Max goes further by recommending solutions. Now thats creation in the works.
Right on Max! Have you become a Maker?
The letters by Paul Mathews and Lawrence Denef advising against over-doing Highway 99 improvements were spot-on. It was disappointing to follow them up with Al Eaton's and Bob Loriman's letters on resident employee housing.
Re: Al Eatons statement: "Now that the Whistler Housing Authority has blown most of its financial reserves."
For the record: The WHA now owns a portfolio of 165 rental units (385 beds) of employee housing in five different projects. The infamous $6 million employee works and service charge fund was used as equity, together with $13.5 million in long term fixed rate mortgages, to fund these investments. In 2002, net rental income in this portfolio (gross income less operating expenses) before debt service will be $1,424,000. The annual cost of the mortgage debt is $1.1 million. The surplus is used to run the WHA office operation that administers all of Whistler's employee restricted units and to build up replacement reserves. The entire operation comes at zero cost to the taxpayer, being entirely funded from works and service charges collected from past development.
The financial reserves of the WHA were not blown. They were invested in quality rental apartments and townhouses. When amortized in 20 or so years the legacy of the $6 million housing fund will be a well located portfolio of quality rental apartments and townhouses. In the years ahead the RMOW/WHA will have the opportunity to use the cash flow and equity of this portfolio to build additional employee-restricted or seniors housing.
Eaton suggests the RMOW insist "Vancouver style" social housing be included in all new development. The RMOW has, in fact, insisted resident employee restricted units or a significant community benefit is derived from all new rezonings. Examples that come to mind include the 42 townhouse units at the entrance and the 38 mandatory suites within Spruce Grove, the 53-unit apartment and 12 suites within Nesters Hill, and the 130 townhouses, 33 mandatory suites in Spring Creek and the 16 suites within the Four Seasons hotel. Vancouver-style social housing throughout Whistler has not been a goal and I hope it never will be.
Next Bob Loriman slams Ted Milner for saying, "I'm not sure we have an employee housing crises." A huge supply of employee housing has been added in the last few years and there is a lot more on the horizon. At he end of 1997 employee restricted accommodation within Whistler totalled 744 units (2,324 beds) in projects such as Whistler Creek Court, Blackcomb Staff, Brio, Millar's Pond, Millar's Ridge, Gondola 6, Glacier Ridge, Barnfield, Green Lakes and Eaglecrest.
Whistler now has some 1,275 units (3,850 beds) with the addition of Spruce Grove, 2120 Nordic, Lorimer Court, 19 Mile Creek, Nesters Pond, Riverside, Beaver Flats, and Westside (Depner). Zoned sites yet to be completed will bring the total of employee restricted beds to 4,300. These projects include Spring Creek, Blackcomb Staff #8, and employee units within the Hyatt Hotel.
If approved, a project in White Gold would have brought us close to the goal of 4,800 beds in 2003. This project failed to materialize and personally, I am not so disappointed as it was not adjoining an existing neighbourhood, it was right smack in the middle and would have had a high impact on neighbours.
Replacing, this project is the land bank and housing proposals related to the Olympics. If Whistler's politicians remain vigilant and get the 2010 Olympics on Whistler's terms, with the employee housing land banks and other legacies, the employee housing situation will not be in crises. I understand a decision on the land bank is imminent and the land comes whether or not the Olympic bid is successful.
Re: GD Maxwells column.
Max spoke to the problem of the loss of existing, typically more affordable housing currently available to residents (particularly suites in houses) to high end redevelopment. The WHA has recommended the RMOW allow such things as bonus density on larger lots for the provision of an employee-restricted suite in single family zones, restricted suites in duplex zones, and restricted suites in a free standing garage or in a coach house. These items are currently before council. They are all incentives.
Such things as making restricted suites mandatory on the redevelopment of all existing single family lots takes away rights people have purchased with their properties and was thought of as unconscionable.
We all agree Whistler's long-term success as a vibrant resort community is contingent upon retaining a stable resident workforce who are part of the community, the scene, the Whistler culture and who relate well within Whistler's resort business. The steps we take to achieve our goals is the hard part. I personally believe that changing these rules and forcing suites throughout single family neighbourhoods is not right. Perhaps those running for mayor and council should publicly state whether or not they wish to force employee-restricted suites on all homeowners so we can see who shares this Maxed-too-far-out idea of "vision and backbone."
I would encourage all those who have thought about running for council to seriously consider being a candidate. The deadline is Friday, Oct. 11 to file your papers with city hall. Whistler is at a crossroads in its evolution and challenges, and needs new people with new ideas, energy, insights, and vision over the next three years and beyond.
For those encumbents who have not announced their intention to run again or not, I would ask them to consider leaving a spot for others to fill.
Except for Counsellor Davies, all the other counsellors and mayor have been on council for at least six years. That is a long time. The public should commend the commitment, energy, time and personal sacrifices that all counsellors and the mayor have made in the past. However, in the future, Whistler needs new candidates to give the community the mature judgements, fresh perspectives and talented mix it needs for the next stage in its growth.
If you decide to throw your hat in the ring and get elected, you may decide just to stay three years or run again. However, in the book of life, it will be a fascinating chapter to the experiences that make up your life. In the process, your involvement would have made a difference to a community and its people. That is a noble objective and purpose, and worthy of consideration.
Over the weekend, I obtained a copy of the revised TA licencing bylaws and regulations that the bylaw staff are pushing. I compared them with the original bylaws. They were all in legaleze, so it is hard for a non-lawyer to figure out all the implications and risks to property owners.
So I had a lawyer friend review the old and new versions today, give her opinion and interpret them for me. She said that the changes were cosmetic and not anything of substance. Also, that the bylaw enforcement powers and risks to property owners were just as great as the original version, especially in the wrong hands.
Conclusion. This TA licencing ploy is the wrong step for improper reasons and based on questionable motivations. It should be withdrawn immediately.
I just noticed on the RMOW site today, that the venue for the public info meeting on the TA licencing proposal this Saturday, Oct. 5 from 3-6 p.m., has been changed to Myrtle Philip School.
Zoning policy pushing out locals
The current municipal policy to stop short-term rentals is pushing out locals who can no longer afford to stay in Whistler. Any locals who own homes are almost always in older subdivisions that are not zoned for short-term temporary accommodation.
Here are some real examples to provide food for thought and discussion. In all these situations, the neighbours would be fully supportive, and all noise, parking and safety bylaws would be respected.
You have a fixed income and you need help to pay for unexpected expenses or increased property taxes, so you want to rent out your home for two weeks during the Christmas and New Years period, to bring in some extra money. During that time, you go on vacation or stay with friends or relatives out of town. If the municipality finds out, it will stop you and threaten you with legal action.
Your relationship with your partner breaks up, or you no longer have a two-income family, or maybe you end up as a single parent, or you lose your job, or one of your two jobs, or you have health problems, or are injured and cant work. You want to move into your one- or two-bedroom rental suite, and rent out your main house during the four-month ski season for short-term rentals to make ends meet, and provide a financial cushion. If the municipality finds out, it will stop you and threaten you with legal action.
You injure your knee or start getting arthritis in your joints because of your outdoor activities, or just getting older and cant ski, or you are retired. In both examples you want to travel for a month or longer during the ski season for your lifestyle or health needs, and want the option to rent out your home for short-term rentals during that time. If the municipality finds out, it will stop you and threaten you with legal action.
You are in any of the above situations and want to rent out your home for several months during the ski season to a group or family. However, the individuals come at different times for short periods. If the municipality finds out, it will stop you and threaten you with legal action.
You are an individual or couple, maybe with a family or wanting to start one. You want to buy a home in Whistler before it is totally unaffordable, maybe with financial assistance from your parents or relatives, who also co-sign the mortgage. You are working at two jobs. You can only afford to buy in an area of Whistler that is not zoned for short-term accommodation. If there is no rental suite, you plan to add one on for revenue. In the meantime, unless you stay in the rental suite and rent out the main home during the ski season for short-term rentals, buying the home and paying the mortgage, property taxes and other expenses is simply not workable. If the municipality finds out, it will stop you and threaten you with legal action. That would destroy your financial security, and you would be forced to sell your home. Therefore you can only keep being a renter, and lose your opportunity to ever become a homeowner. Your dream of owning a home in Whistler withers and dies.
Can you imagine how discouraging the above situations are to locals? It makes no logical sense at all. Locals end up suffering in silence and driven out of town because of the short-term rental restrictions. It is starting to feel like a police state and that is very upsetting and stressful. It causes insecurity and resentment to feel you have no real input on a reasonable rental policy, and no control over your home decisions.
Please re-consider this whole short-term rental policy for locals before it is too late.
When it was "the road to Whistler," a winding, two-laned, four-hour drive from North Vancouver, it was a wonderous adventure and safe enough, especially for someone late of Toronto's 12-lane 401, which was not.
Then it got a bit sticky, after skiing was hyped-up and the roadway was straightened and widened in places, cutting the travel time in half but doubling the rate of accidents. (There should be published a plot of highway improvements versus accidents, in five year intervals from 1965 to present.)
After the successful taxpayer bail out of the Whistler enterprises in the mid-80s, the ski resort idea was very much subsumed by real estate dealing, golf, and conferencing, until it is now an attractive city complete with the common urban sprawl.
The reconstruction of the Sea to Cloud-9, from highway to Highway 401 status, will ensure the sprawl extends to Horseshoe Bay and to Pemberton and beyond, indeed that is the case already. This will be accelerated with taxpayer (and corporate?) support, through the 2010 Party.
Go for it people, be stupid, stupid, stupid faster, faster and faster you deserve it!
There are alternatives, but as Bob Hope once said, "That's enough for nothing."
Wayne L. Mulherin