Housing on horizon 

  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Golf Club

It feels like no matter where you turn, our housing woes are front and centre.

Social media sites are now filling up with rental places for the summer, as owners await a new crop of winter renters next season that they can charge top dollar.

This, despite new regulations from the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch, which mean that all fixed-term tenancies automatically become month-to-month tenancies at the end of the initial agreement, with rent increases tied to the annual allowable rate (four per cent in 2018).

This means Whistler landlords wanting to offer summer discounts would have to average the rate out over an entire year rather than change the rental rate each season.

We also learned at the last council meeting that the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has decided to take a new approach to dealing with developers' ideas for more employee housing.

Now projects will be considered through a "comparative evaluation process," which gives each proposal equal and consistent consideration.

The new approach is in response to the considerable number of projects that the RMOW has been approached to sign off on for employee housing.

That there is some urgency in getting affordable housing built is no secret, and there are parcels of land that would be suitable—the question now is if the process is going to hold development up?

Interested parties will be notified of the new approach, and have until May 31 to submit a preliminary rezoning application.

A report will be brought to council in September to consider how to move forward. It's now been more than nine months since we saw the first developers come to the table with their concepts.

And it's only a few months before the winter season of 2018-19 starts, during which little to no building can take place.

Construction is about to begin on a new Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) building in Cheakamus, which should bring 40 units onto the market by 2020. In addition, the WHA is continuing work on 1020 Legacy Way (24 units with anticipated occupancy in early 2019) and 8350 Bear Paw Trail (20 units for seniors; early 2019).

These new WHA housing projects will provide additional affordable accommodations for approximately 227 local residents and will increase the total number of Whistler resident housing beds to just over 6,600.

Infill housing and the Home Run Program are all part of the mix as well.

But it is still not enough.

Clearly, there are parcels of land that are suitable for development, but how those would mix into their neighbourhoods and where they are located is all part of the equation.

In cities and municipalities across Canada right now, there are some who are proposing the development of green spaces, such as municipal golf courses.

A CBC story late last year quoted Abundant Housing Vancouver, an organization eager to see affordable housing on golf courses.

"Definitely reserving six very large pieces of public land for nothing but 500 or 600 people a day at their peak seems a little ridiculous in this environment," Adrian Crook, a member of the pro-density advocacy group, told CBC.

In Vancouver, the number of rounds played between 2013 and 2016 dropped by 19,000, or 11 per cent, on the city's three 18-hole courses. The city makes almost $10 million in fees from golf, but it costs $6.5 million to run the courses — any money left over is used for capital upkeep. 

In Surrey, a private developer is working to get permission to build 325-units of market housing on a portion of the Coyote Creek Golf Course in the Fleetwood neighbourhood. The course would be reduced to nine or 12 holes, from 18. Of the 88 speakers signed up to speak at the February hearing, 56 were in support of the development. Mayor Linda Hepner pointed out that a petition against the project had gathered 2,841 signatures so far.

Should Whistler consider development on its municipal golf course? The Whistler Golf Club is owned by the RMOW and operated under the Tourism Whistler umbrella. It receives no funding and is totally self-sufficient, turning a profit every year that is plowed into the course's upkeep and improvement. It welcomes about 25,000 golfers a season.

The suggestion has been made before, as it's flat land and its proximity to the village makes it very attractive. Surely it could operate at nine or even 12 holes, while the rest is developed?

But is it worth removing this wildlife corridor, currently home to five bears waking up for the summer, worth the loss of a full course as a tourist draw, worth the loss of a self-sustaining community amenity used for running, walking, cross-country skiing and even dog-walking?

Some may argue yes.

But let's see what's on the table from private developers first. I have a feeling that keeping our "local" golf course green outweighs any value we get if developed.



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