March 09, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

A time to plan 

Whistler's official community plan and comprehensive development plan were designed to serve the town in the 1990s, but do they meet present and future needs?

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The current OCP policies should be amended to appropriately reflect the Local Government Act legislation before this loophole undermines the land use planning in the valley. Let's-make-a-deal planning is not sustainable.

Ensuring a liveable community

The Vision 2002 document recognizes the importance of residents, their well being and their diversity. The skyrocketing land costs caused by the moratorium, however, is threatening the town' s liveability. The municipality has effectively anticipated this progression and diligently constructed and secured over 1,400 units of affordable housing. The Whistler Housing Authority indicates that these restricted units house approximately one-third of the existing workforce, while privately owned market units provide the remaining accommodation.

Even with the OCP/CDP policies to exclude affordable housing from the bed unit cap (affordable housing is one of the few forms of development for which a landowner can get development rights), and the commitment to the Whistler Housing Authority there is a concern that the existing market properties may not provide the same amount of housing opportunities for local employees in the future. The realization by property owners of their new-found equity or the burden of high taxes may result in few market units being available for local employees while the Whistler community flees to Squamish, Pemberton and more affordable Interior mountain resorts.

It is likely that the Olympic bid, if successful will further exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing. If local decision makers want to ensure the existence of a local workforce and community, the OCP needs to be amended to determine if all the needed employee housing can be realistically achieved within the existing developed areas or whether there is an need to seek out new neighbourhoods.

In addition to the cost and availability of housing, the liveability of Whistler is further being challenged by the increasing costs and decreasing selection of local oriented goods and services. The current OCP limits the expansion and new development of commercial uses, except for neighbourhood-oriented products and services. This policy was appropriate in the early 1990s when the municipality did not want to threaten the success of the village, but this should no longer be an issue.

Local entrepreneurs, resident-serving retailers and professional offices have either been competing with industry for space in Function Junction, facing incredible rents in the village or establishing a home based businesses. When basic goods and services for the local community can not be provided affordably, the residents commute to Squamish or Vancouver.

There are several strategic underdeveloped, undeveloped or disturbed lands in the valley which have some commercial potential, where together with effective planning and design (no strip malls) they could be a great asset to the community. These developments may even help with the transportation issues; if certain goods and services can be closer to where locals live then a car trip is not necessary. In addition, more locationally attractive and affordable office space may result in home offices being converted back to residential uses.

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