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New location put forward for temporary workers housing

H.O.M.E. Committee to bring proposal to council Feb. 18

A temporary trailer park that would house local workers is gaining ground this week as a new location is explored for its building potential.

The site is located north of the village on the west side of Highway 99, opposite Mons Road.

The new site has come up for consideration as a deal with First Nations, which own the BCBC lands opposite Alta Vista, remains up in the air.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) confirmed this week it has leased that site from Squamish and Lil’wat Nations for ski waxing trailers during the upcoming FIS World Cup and national speed championships next month.

The lease expires in May 2008, which still leaves the door open for a temporary housing project. In the meantime, a second location is being considered.

“We told (the proponents) that if they don’t get anywhere with First Nations we can provide them with some acres,” confirmed Steve Bayly this week.

Bayly, along with business partner Nigel Woods, has an application working through municipal hall to rezone a piece of property west of Highway 99. They are proposing the area would be used for “back of house” facilities such as a bus depot, recycling depot and a taxi maintenance and storage facility. The land is currently zoned for a single family estate home.

Because they don’t plan to build all 16 acres at once, they have offered four acres as a potential temporary housing site, should it be needed.

Tom Horler, co-chair of the H.O.M.E. Committee, which is committed to finding a solution to Whistler’s housing crisis, said the Mons site works well for its needs. Not only is it flat, it’s close to transit. There is also a tree buffer between the highway and the proposed location of the housing.

The plan would include the developers delivering a serviced portion of the site by the late fall, just in time to get housing up and ready for the 2008-2009 winter season which promises to be even more challenging than this season. The H.O.M.E. Committee’s plan is to bring temporary housing to Whistler with enough beds for approximately 250 workers.

The housing project would be called the Community Bridge Park.

This will provide a bridge into the community for temporary workers,” said Horler.

Horler took issue with the description of the proposed housing as “stackable shipping containers” or a “trailer park” because of the negative connotation it conjures.

“We are looking at a remote housing solution,” said Horler. “These are not containers… These are comfortable, custom-built units.”

Co-chair Ralph Forsyth echoed those comments.

“It needs to be Whistler-style,” he said. “We’re not just going to throw up man-camps.

“We don’t want to make it worse for people.”

By comparison, there are workers who are currently living in deplorable conditions, sharing space in living rooms or stuffed into bedrooms and paying exorbitant rents.

It is the familiar Whistler winter story but all signs point to things getting worse in the next two years as the resort readies for the 2010 Games.

The H.O.M.E. committee is planning to go before council at the Monday, Feb. 18 meeting with a proposal. It will include a location, a business case for the housing, and a list of interested business partners willing to put up the money.

“This is business going out and solving a business problem,” said Horler. “We need partners in municipal government to take a close look at zoning solutions as part of the equation.”

To ensure that the housing stays temporary, which has been an issue raised by some members of council, Forsyth said bylaws could be put in place to make sure the housing is gone by the summer of 2010. At that time hundreds of units will be sold to local employees as the athletes’ village converts into an employee housing neighbourhood, which could ease the seasonal housing pressures.

temporary housing is expected to cost between $500 and $600 per bed, per month. Business owners would have to guarantee the money and then lease the room to their staff.

Chamber of Commerce president Louise Lundy does not expect that to be a problem.

“There will be no shortage of takers on the beds,” she said this week. “That we know for sure.

“We will make every effort to have those employers step up.” The focus, she said, would be on small businesses that may not have the deep pockets like bigger corporations to buy market housing for their staff.

The First Nations BCBC lands came out as a preferred site last fall as the committee members looked for suitable land. The site is serviced, fairly flat and close to the village.

There have been several interested parties in that land, not the least of which is VANOC, the H.O.M.E. Committee and the municipality. It was Crown land, transferred by the municipality to First Nations in June as part of their 300 acre land bank deal — one site of eight the two nations chose in Whistler.