Editorial 

Somewhere Rainbow went over the top

How did a development project go through more than three years of planning, revision, negotiation and certainly frustration — for the proponent, the municipality and all the people holding on to the dream of buying a home in Whistler — and get to the 11 th hour Monday, where the whole thing was millimetres away from being killed? It’s a question that can’t be answered today, but one for which taxpayers should expect an explanation.

But this week, there were plenty of insinuations, accusations, frantic phone calls and more frustration as the proposed Rainbow resident housing subdivision came back to council. Zoning bylaws for the project were approved some time ago. The basic premise of the rezoning was increased density in return for amenities — resident housing and seniors housing.

What was before council Monday was a housing agreement bylaw covering the 70 resident single-family lots and 80 resident duplexes in the project. The agreement doesn’t affect the seniors housing.

The housing agreement bylaw came forward a week after the Rainbow proponents held an open house to formally introduce the project to people on the housing waitlist. At the open house there was some concern about the price of units in the Rainbow project, particularly the single-family homes that start at the upper end of $500,000 and go up.

That was also the root of council’s concern with the housing agreement bylaw. A clause in the agreement before council Monday said that if any units remained available after being offered to all the people on the housing waitlist they could be offered to secondary qualified purchasers, i.e. Whistler residents not on the waitlist who may already own market homes. Only about 70 people on the housing waitlist have been pre-qualified for mortgages that would allow them to buy a single-family unit at Rainbow.

Council’s fear is that Whistler residents who already own their own home and are at a point in their life where they’re ready to downsize — secondary qualified buyers — could sell their homes at market value, buy a unit in Rainbow and put several hundred thousand dollars in their retirement fund. It’s a nice deal but it doesn’t result in a net increase in Whistler residents owning homes, which was one of the reasons for the whole project.

Which brings us back to another version of the original question: where and when did the secondary qualified purchaser clause come into the equation?

All members of council seemed to indicate the first they heard of the clause was last week. Municipal staff said the clause was first suggested by the Rainbow proponents 11 months ago. That type of disconnect is no small misunderstanding.

The concept of secondary qualified purchasers — selling resident-restricted housing to people not on the housing waitlist — is not new. In fact, units in Bear CreekCHECK and at Function Junction have been sold to secondary qualified buyers. But in some instances there was a 120-day waiting period before the units could be offered to secondary qualified buyers. Owning market housing in Whistler also disqualified buyers. As well, a number of people on the housing waitlist have declined opportunities to buy in existing resident housing projects, preferring to wait for Rainbow and Cheakamus Crossing. For some who found the Rainbow prices beyond their means, that wait may have been in vain.

The Rainbow proponents say the secondary qualified purchasers clause became part of the deal when the municipality decided not to purchase any unsold units in Rainbow. The secondary qualified purchasers clause is something the financial backers of the project wanted.

And there may well be a need for a secondary qualified purchasers list as a backup to the Whistler Housing Authority’s waitlist — eventually, after the WHA waitlist is significantly reduced. Keeping long-term Whistler residents in the community when they retire or are ready to downsize is going to be important, but a more immediate priority is the 700 people on the WHA waitlist.

As frustrating as the Rainbow project has been, it is still alive and an agreement prior to today’s special council meeting still appears possible. Councillor Tim Wake’s suggestion that units not be offered to secondary qualified buyers until a certain percentage have been sold to people on the WHA waitlist would seem to be a good starting point.

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