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Municipality to look at infill sites, road ends for housing

Davies tries to drive council’s agenda with new employee housing infill initiative

Despite concerns over circumventing due process, council unanimously passed a motion brought forth by Councillor Nick Davies to investigate new employee housing opportunities on infill sites.

"I feel it should have been endorsed from the housing board because the discussion occurred there," said Councillor Marianne Wade after the meeting.

At the same time, she said she didn’t want to stand in the way of housing being built and chose to lend her support to Davies’ proposal.

"I totally agree that it’s a small step in the right direction," she said at Monday’s council meeting.

With council’s approval, municipal staff will now begin to review employee housing opportunities on small infill sites and road ends dotted throughout the municipality.

These sites have already been identified in a comprehensive site evaluation study, which was delivered to council in March.

Councillor Caroline Lamont commended Davies for bringing the proposal forward even though she too wished the proposal had come before council in a different manner, namely through municipal staff.

"This is a top priority and there’s a lot of rumblings in the community," she said.

"How could you not support it?"

Davies explained that he was simply trying to drive council’s agenda by taking advantage of a procedural bylaw that allows councillors to bring motions to the council table.

He said council was running the danger of becoming a "do-nothing council."

"I think as a council we have been remiss in our duty," he said.

When elected two years ago council pledged to deliver 500 beds of employee housing by the end of their term.

Since then council has approved roughly 300 beds with the Nita Lake Lodge development in Creekside.

The municipality is in the process of doing long-range plans to determine future needs and demand for employee housing.

Meanwhile the waitlist at the Whistler Housing Authority is growing almost daily, currently topping more than 400 applicants.

"This is an opportunity to pick some low hanging fruit," said Davies, meaning the easiest and fastest method for achieving Whistler’s housing goals.

Even though council raised concerns that the proposal didn’t come directly through the WHA, they all supported to concept of developing housing on the infill sites and road ends.

Councillor Gordon McKeever, who sits on the board of the WHA, said the will to move in this direction was clearly expressed at a recent WHA board meeting.

"It’s safe to say the WHA is behind this type of thing," he said.

At the same time Monday’s discussion highlighted a lack of clarity among councillors about the role of the WHA and where the responsibility lies for investigating housing projects and bringing them forward to council.

A governance review of the WHA is almost complete and should be presented to council by the end of the year.

That review will pinpoint the Resort Municipality of Whistler as the lead agency in developing housing projects.

"It’s not the role of the housing authority to go out and chase opportunities," said Davies.

Councillor Kristi Wells said she was challenged and frustrated by the recent turn of events.

"If council unanimously supports the proposal to investigate road end opportunities and infill sites and staff indicates they have time to do it, why have there been so many challenges to date?" she asked.

Municipal Administrator Jim Godfrey explained that there have been a number of proposals for employee housing that have come to the table but have not worked out for one reason or another.

He also said the municipality is in "closed door" discussions on a project, which could lead to more opportunities.

Among other problems that have plagued the process is the inability to find a housing planner despite efforts he said, as well as the lack of clarity between the roles of the WHA and staff.

Staff are due back before council by mid-November with a recommendation as to what process should be developed to determine how the sites can be used to the best advantage for the delivery of employee housing for purchase.

Sites highlighted in the evaluation report include the east side of Highway 99 across from the Rimrock, the end of Fitzsimmons Road North, and the ends of Easy Street, Balsam Way and Alpine Way, among others.