Editorial 

Whistler inertia and the three-year cycle

On the eve of a new year, an election year for local governments in B.C., and barely five years before the Olympic dream of 1960 becomes a reality, we look ahead to what 2005 will bring. Being an election year, political inertia will finally shift up a notch or two on several fronts, one being resident housing and affordability.

It was nearly two years ago that a task force was struck to look at so-called non-cost housing initiatives. The task force, made up of business people and citizens at large, was asked to look at things that could be done to facilitate resident housing without actually spending public money to build new housing. Things like subdividing a house, so that a suite becomes a separate legal property from the rest of the building, and providing a density bonus in return for including a suite in a new home were proposed.

While the task force’s recommendations were well received, little has become of them. The suspicion is that more suites were turned into media rooms, to increase the re-sale value of houses, than new suites were created. Such is the power of the market.

Since then, new resident housing built by Intrawest at Spring Creek has come on line and the Nita Lake Lodge project, which includes resident-restricted housing has been approved, although construction at Nita Lake is proceeding painfully slowly.

Last year at about this time the community decided that future housing should not be in the Callaghan Valley but rather within the built-up area between Function Junction and Emerald Estates. Infill housing was what Whistler wanted. But little has happened.

Last fall Councillor Nick Davies, the new chair of the Whistler Housing Authority, invoked Whistler’s new mantra, to go after the low-hanging fruit, and announced plans to get to work on building some housing in road-ends and other vacant pieces of property suitable for housing. Naturally this raised concerns in neighbourhoods that might be affected. Some residents in Tapley’s Farm – which started out years ago as a neighbourhood of affordable resident housing – recently wrote to council: "With mounting political pressure to provide affordable housing, it is our fear that the road ends… will be developed without proper due process and that consideration will not be given to the potential negative impacts to the neighbourhood and adjacent properties." To date, nothing has happened with road ends.

Meanwhile residents in Barnfield, another neighbourhood of resident-restricted single-family homes, are challenging some of the restrictions on the resale value of their homes.

While all this inactivity on the housing front has taken place the WHA’s waiting list for people trying to buy resident-restricted housing has grown to more than 500. The housing authority finally has some cash, through the sale of its Nordic Court units, and the municipality has 300 acres of Crown land to build housing on as part of the legacy of the 2010 Games.

But 2005 is an election year and things seem to come to a head in the weeks and months before Whistlerites go to the polls. You may recall that Intrawest’s Whistler South plans for Creekside, Spring Creek and Kadenwood were finally approved just before the 1999 municipal election, as was the Emerald Forest deal. In the fall of 2002 it was an official endorsement of the Olympic bid that was done just prior to the election.

And on the housing front there are rumblings that new projects, on one or more privately owned parcels of land, rather than the Crown land bank, may surface in the new year. It’s welcome news, if the rumblings come true, but it does give pause to consider the timing and what is needed to change the inertia in Whistler.

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