Dozens attend open house for illegal space zoning changes 

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Drafting new zoning to deal with illegal residential floor areas is closer than ever with the hosting of an open house on the issue last week.

The proposed zoning changes would affect most single family and duplex properties throughout the municipality and as such there was healthy discussion at an open house on the topic March 2, with over 100 people attending the session at Millennium Place.

Under the new zoning crawl and void space definitions would be modified to prevent illegal alterations for use after occupancy permits are issued;

There would be a new definition for basement-like floor areas that would be excluded from the gross floor area. A property owner would have the chance to use this space as permitted by the property's zoning. This would be subject to permit, BC Building Code and other land use regulations.

Being on hand to provide answers to questions like how any program would be rolled out in terms of timeline or the priority sequence for building types and zones was important, according to Resort Municipality of Whistler Councillor Duane Jackson, who is leading the task force.

"That sort of stuff takes a bit of communication effort. Part of our job on council is to figure out the situation mechanically (in addressing illegal spaces) but also to communicate this," he said.

"Some homeowners got a sense of relief that it is being brought up at last."

Jackson said that given the emphasis of the current plans are on basements, void spaces and crawl spaces, the number of questions about loft spaces and garages exceeded his expectations and could require further discussion by council.

Commenting after the meeting he added that he didn't hear any negative comments from attendees. "We had a good mix of property owners, people from the real estate community, the building and trades community," Jackson said.

Nordic resident Brad Sinclair came to the event because it was the first step to a longstanding problem.

"I live in a strata and while I realize it doesn't apply to strata, there's the issue of nonconforming space within all sorts of strata," said Sinclair.

"I'm on our strata council and this is the sort of thing that has to be dealt with.

"It's a common practice in this town, people trying to get more and more space, so I'm trying to be more and more informed."

Whistler's fire chief, Rob Whitton, advised some attendees about their own spaces, including describing scenarios about dangers in emergencies such as fires.

"There's a number of properties in Whistler that have been altered without permit and the unfortunate part is that without any inspections usually they don't provide adequate ventilation for sleeping areas," he said.

"Through this process we're hoping to be able to legitimize the space that we can and hopefully get people to address ventilation issues, egress issues, access, ensure that there are fire detectors installed and they're interconnected, as well as having the carbon monoxide detectors."

David Girard, also a member of the task force, said they were looking forward to their presentation to council on the problem.

"How urgent is this? We've been investing time and effort in this for at least seven, eight years," Girard said. "We're in the home stretch."

He said while safety was the main concern, changes might lead to a rebalancing of taxation.

"What you would expect to see would be a rebalancing in a more fair tax assessment role, in that right now if you have two buildings, one that has an illegally developed space and one that doesn't they are probably being taxed at the same amount, whereas the one that has more space should be paying more."

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden appointed the task force at a December council meeting. It is comprised of four members of the Sea to Sky Chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association and three municipal staff members.

The task force met five times between Jan. 5 and Feb. 16, 2012 to identify issues, review various alternatives and considerations, and determine an initial approach. The task force will present its draft zoning bylaw amendment recommendations at the regular council meeting on March 20.

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