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WHA chair proposes employee housing action

Davies’s proposal will create small housing opportunities while RMOW works on bigger picture

The chair of the Whistler Housing Authority, Councillor Nick Davies, is urging council to investigate employee housing opportunities on small parcels of land around the municipality.

"(It’s a) quick easy fix that we can do right away while we look at the bigger picture," said Davies at Monday’s council meeting.

Davies put forward a Notice of Motion at the meeting, which let’s council know his proposal will be on the next agenda in mid-October.

Davies plans to ask staff to review the small infill sites and road ends, which were identified in a comprehensive site evaluation report, delivered to council in March.

Those sites 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.

Davies wants to pursue the opportunities in these small parcels, even though the municipality is in the process of working on several long-range plans such as the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan and the Needs Assessment Report.

Those documents will help determine where future employee housing will go, what it will look like and how much Whistler needs, among other things.

"In spite of that I think there are things that we can be doing (so) that we don’t need to wait," explained Davies after the meeting.

It’s a direction that is welcomed by the WHA.

"It’s definitely a direction that the housing authority is keen on moving forward on," said Marla Zucht, housing administrator with the WHA.

The infill site and road ends are a way to tackle smaller, one of a kind projects, she added.

In the last month the waiting list for employee housing topped 400 applicants, which represents more than 800 employees in Whistler.

In addition, the WHA collected roughly $5 million from the sale of an employee housing complex this summer, which was put directly into the housing fund.

"A waiting list of 400 tells us the demand is there, so why wait?" asked Davies.

"If we’ve got land and we’ve got money in the bank, it’s something that we can start to move forward on."

In addition to reviewing the small infill sites and road ends, Davies also plans to ask municipal staff to raise the titles for the lands at the Land Title Office. This will officially put the RMOW on title for the road end sites.

"Once we have that title we can then deal with the property. And there’s no reason why we need to wait to do that," said Davies.

"We just need to get on with it."

By the first council meeting in November, Davies is hoping staff will report back with a plan on how to deal with the identified sites.

For example Davies said one solution could be to sell all the parcels of land as free market lots and use the money to buy a big piece of land for employee hosing. Alternatively, the municipality could do a call for public proposals on each site, allowing developers or a group of individuals to come together and build on the land.

"So there’s all kinds of ideas about what we could do with these parcels but we need to get going on figuring it out and to date we haven’t done anything," said Davies.

At Monday’s meeting Councillor Caroline Lamont, who sits on the board of the WHA, expressed support for the direction of the motion calling it a "good start."

At the same time she said there is still a lot of work to be done and Whistler must review all its options, keeping a number of things in mind, such as the athletes village, the CSP, and preserving existing neighbourhoods.

Council will make a decision on the motion at the next council meeting on Monday, Oct. 18.