house meeting 

Whistler one step ahead of Aspen on housing While everyone in Whistler has written off the idea of solving the housing crunch in the valley this winter, hopes are high some innovative solutions are in the works. Almost 300 people packed into half of the Sea to Sky Ballroom in the Whistler Conference Centre last Thursday to take part in an ideas session which not only brought out the younger Whistlerites absent from the Town Hall Meeting, but some modular home sales people as well. While folks perused the designs for pre-planned, high density communities and pre-fab log homes, they also browsed around the room at the about 100 faces under the age of 35 who were either busy working or not interested when Whistlerites were charting the future of the valley at the Town Hall Meeting last month. Those young folks are the building blocks of any healthy community and when Dave Tolen, executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority took the mic he said if the people who work in a resort don’t live there, the soul of the town starts disappearing. The meteoric rise of Aspen’s real estate market drove local employees out of town and the town planners had to scramble to attract those folks back, Tolen said. From 1990 to 1993 the town of Aspen, where 40 per cent of the people who work there live elsewhere, put together a plan to make it possible for people who work in Aspen to live in Aspen. "We had to create a character-based plan," Tolen said. "We made a fundamental decision to maintain the character of the town rather than worry about infrastructure." While there are many similarities between Whistler and Aspen, Tolen said Whistler still has its character, but the focus on infrastructure development may be pushing it to the fringe as many of the ski bums who squatted here in the 1970s and built the town now hock real estate in a spiralling market. Strict rent and price controls on local employee housing started to lure some of the character back to Aspen and Tolen said the forced exodus of employees began to be reversed as affordable, resident housing was developed. The philosophy, he said, is simple: "We can’t give you a nestegg, but we can give you a nest." Tough new laws forced developers interested in creating new subdivisions to make 60 per cent of the new homes affordable housing for residents; only 40 per cent of new developments were allowed to be market housing. Tolen said the political savvy and participatory nature of Whistler’s residents have put this community one step ahead on the evolutionary scale when compared to Aspen. "I have never seen this level of political involvement on one issue in Aspen, so the people of Whistler have shown the desire to maintain and strengthen the community through their desire to be part of the process… that should be encouraging," he said.

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