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Whistler council endorses reimagined housing projects

Projects in Nordic, White Gold set for further review
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An overhead site plan of the proposed development at 2077 Garibaldi Way in Nordic. Image courtesy of the RMOW

a pair of long-discussed private developer housing projects were again endorsed for further review at Whistler's May 5 council meeting—and both look much different than in prior proposals.

Both projects—one at 2077 Garibaldi Way in Nordic and one at 7104 Nancy Greene Dr. in White Gold—should be familiar to Whistler council watchers, as they've made multiple appearances on the agenda since first being submitted under housing guidelines for private developers in late 2017.

The project at 2077 Garibaldi Way has been controversial from the start, amassing a mountain of opposition letters at municipal hall from nearby neighbours.

But proponents hope significant revisions to the project will make it work in the neighbourhood.

The updated application proposes 20 units in four buildings (two seven-plexes and two triplexes)—down from 74 units in the first proposal, and 48 in the second.

Further, the proposal has changed from 100-per-cent employee housing to a mix of market and employee (14 Whistler Housing Authority units, to be sold through the waitlist, and six market), from rental to ownership, and from apartment buildings to townhouses.

The proponent is now seeking 74 bed units (down from 222 and 144).

"We reviewed the extensive feedback received from the planning staff, Advisory Design Panel and public on our previous two rental building proposals and engaged a small group of Nordic community members to determine if we could align the interests of the neighbourhood and the community's need for employee housing within the new guidelines," said proponent Dave Brownlie, who is working with developer Robert Velenosi on the project, in an email.

Through that process, the proponents heard that the key issues were the need for ownership over rental, the density of the site, onsite parking, and traffic.

"The new proposal provides for employee ownership, density consistent with the neighbourhood and much less traffic than our previous submission. We also believe the design is a better fit with the neighbourhood character," Brownlie said.

All the units have three bedrooms and include laundry, balconies, dining areas, "generously sized" rooms, and garages (double for the six market units).

The remaining parking (of 43 total stalls provided) is at surface level.

One of the primary concerns of neighbours in Nordic—one shared by RMOW staff—is how the project would impact traffic in the neighbourhood, primarily exiting south onto Highway 99.

While a traffic study completed for the 48-unit proposal "identified an issue" with Highway 99 and Nordic Drive, the study "did also speak to the fact that the 48 units would not generate a big difference in terms of wait times at that intersection," said planner Roman Licko, in a presentation to council.

The RMOW has been working with the provincial ministry of transportation on identifying priority locations for improvement, Licko added.

"This could be one, and generally when improvements are required, we seek funding and, when necessary, development projects can share costs," he said.

"But potential impacts have been reduced further from 48 to 20 units, so it will have a fairly low impact on that intersection."

Proposed unit prices for the employee-restricted units are $520 per square foot, putting the average price per unit at $696,000.

With council's endorsement (minus Coun. Arthur De Jong, who declared a conflict of interest as a longtime resident of Nordic), staff will prepare a zoning amendment bylaw for the project.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, an "online information and input opportunity" will be held, giving residents a chance to share any comments on the written record.

In White Gold, Vidorra Developments is now proposing 38 employee rental apartment units in a three-storey building (down from the original proposal of 65 units and five storeys, and a later revised proposal of 47 units and four storeys).

The units are a mix of one-bedroom, one-bedroom with a flex room (a study or storage room), two-bedrooms, two-bedrooms with a flex, and a single three-bedroom unit.

The proponent is now seeking 104 bed units (down from 184 and 122).

All units have in-suite laundry, a balcony, and a dining area.

In response to comments from staff and council, the new proposal reduced the density and height of the building to better align with the neighbourhood; increased landscaping for socializing and building screening; and increased the amount of parking (now one stall per unit minimum, for a total of 42 stalls plus loading).

The building will also be "one of the most advanced buildings in B.C.," in terms of energy efficiency, said Rod Nadeau of Vidorra Developments, which has refined its energy modelling in buildings in Pemberton and Golden in recent years.

"It's going to be a great place to live, and the primary focus of the design was actually that we kept in mind the people who are going to live there," Nadeau said.

As laid out in a development pro forma submitted by Vidorra Developments, proposed rents are $1,307 to $2,277 per month for one-bedroom units and $2,236 to $2,742 per month for two-bedroom units (depending on size).

The proposed rate for the three-bedroom unit is $3,014 per month.

In a presentation to council, planner Stephanie Johnson noted that at just 378 square feet, some of the one-bedroom units would likely qualify as the smallest in Whistler—a fact that didn't deter council from voting in favour (minus Coun. Duane Jackson, who declared a conflict as a White Gold resident).

"I hear often from friends and community members who would like their own space, and they don't intend to spend a lot of time at home, because they're out biking and skiing and doing all the things that this town enjoys," said Coun. Jen Ford.

"And so a smaller space that allows them to afford their own space without sharing with a bunch of roommates makes a lot of sense."

Mayor Jack Crompton agreed, but with a base rate of $1,307 per month, hoped the developer can "sharpen their pencil" to lower the rate on the smaller units.

Like the project in Nordic, an online public information will be scheduled to gather more public input before a bylaw is brought to council.

Both rezonings would also be subject to a full public hearing process before adoption.