Hundreds turn out for community forum 

Housing, transportation, community planning and more discussed

click to enlarge PACKED HOUSE Economic development officer Toni Metcalf addresses a crowd of about 250 at the RMOW's community forum on Nov. 2.
  • PACKED HOUSE Economic development officer Toni Metcalf addresses a crowd of about 250 at the RMOW's community forum on Nov. 2.

More than 250 Whistlerites came out for a community forum at the Whistler Conference Centre on Thursday, Nov. 2.

The forum boasted a packed agenda, with presentations on housing, transportation and community planning.

It kicked off at 4:30 p.m. with a gallery walk, followed by presentations from Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and municipal staff, and wrapped up with table discussions on the different topics.

Even the most studious of Whistlerites may have felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of stats and figures, and the avalanche of information presented on poster boards in the Conference Centre's grand foyer and in the lengthy presentations.

If you'd like to take a closer look, the presentation materials, including a recording of the forum, will be posted to the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) website at www.whistler.ca/communityforum.

Comments can be provided by email to feedback@whistler.ca.

HOUSING

A large portion of the presentations was dedicated to the work of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing, and seven draft recommendations designed to ease the strain on rental and ownership in the community.

The recommendations, originally presented to council on Oct. 3, include: building more resident-restricted inventory; expanding the resort's infill program to all neighbourhoods (allowing for smaller, more affordable homes); allowing for development of resident-restricted rentals on underdeveloped private lands; and tightening eligibility requirements for resident-restricted housing.

New at the forum were details about a planned expansion for Cheakamus Crossing.

"There is work currently undergoing on that... evaluation of all municipally owned lands down at Cheakamus, and to prioritize those for resident-restricted homes," said economic development manger Toni Metcalf in her presentation.

"We're looking at determining immediately available sites that building can commence as quickly as possible whilst retaining some longer-term land options as the community continues to evolve."

The expansion project is looking to maximize employee housing while tying in the different considerations of the neighbourhood, like recreational opportunities and access to trails.

"It's important to recognize community values regarding the protection of our natural corridors and the natural features of the lands that are there," Metcalf said.

The plans are considering 15 hectares above the existing neighbourhood (deemed "Phase 2") and 49 hectares below it known as the Cheakamus Lower Lands.

"Not all of that land is going to be available for housing... there are significant rock formations that may not be suitable (and) there's a number of different features recreation-wise that will need to be preserved," Metcalf said.

Work is already underway to further analyze the Phase 2 lands, with four sites identified for potential development — one of which could work for immediate development.

"Work will be progressed to develop concepts for that and develop a plan," Metcalf said.

In the Lower Lands, three sites have been identified for potential development.

In the longer term, a site near Jane Lakes Road has been identified for potential residential use.

"Development concepts for those most immediate next phases would be developed in the next two to three months, and that will come back to the community at that point in time," Metcalf said. "So there is a lot of work happening on enhancing resident-restricted housing supply."

If all goes according to plan, the RMOW hopes to add 1,000 new employee beds over the next five years, including 205 by the end of 2017 and another 160 by the end of 2018.

The recommendations and public feedback will be discussed at a Nov. 14 council retreat and the Nov. 16 meeting of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident housing.

A final report will be prepared and brought to council for approval in the coming months.

Read more about the work of the task force here: www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/rmow-targets-1000-new-beds-over-five-years/Content?oid=4762186

TRANSPORTATION

On the transportation front, the RMOW is seeking public input on proposed actions for 2018 and 2019.

They include: Working with the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on a study to understand costs and impacts on natural areas for highway capacity improvements between Function Junction and Whistler Village; working with BC Transit to expand regional transit from Pemberton and Mount Currie to Vancouver; monitor actions taken around parking to improve on what's already been implemented; expand secure bicycle parking offerings in the Village and Upper Village, including secure overnight and event parking; and exploring peak time carpooling strategies to encourage more people to carpool to the ski hill.

"We do want your feedback tonight on which ones do you think are the priority," said general manager of infrastructure services James Hallisey.

"At a high level, there are more actions to work (through) with Transportation Advisory Group stakeholders... both on the infrastructure side, but also to help everyone understand what we're trying to achieve here. That understanding is sometimes one of the keys to the success, so we need to keep rolling that forward too."

On the regional transit front, high-level discussions are already taking place with BC Transit and the ministry, Hallisey said.

"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves, we're not sure how that's going to come together, but there's some real motivation on everybody's part, and it looks very positive at this time that we will have some form rolling out here," he said.

"When and how still needs to be determined. There's a lot of work left to do, but it's much more positive than what we had in the past."

For more on actions undertaken in 2017, head to: www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/summer-transportation-action-plan-deemed-a-success/Content?oid=4536727

OCP UPDATE

Since its Official Community Plan (OCP) update was quashed by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2014, the RMOW has been operating off a 1993 version of the OCP.

Now the time has come to update the crucial guiding document.

"We have a commitment to engage actively on the OCP update in 2018," said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey.

"(We're going to) look at the vision and principles, we're going to consider the current and future economic, social (and) environmental factors, the wellbeing of the community that we are facing. We're going to have a lot of engagement of community members through forums like this and others, we're going to involve the Squamish and Lil'wat (First Nations), and we're hoping to move forward and update our plan."

Over the last year and a half, the RMOW has revisited the guiding principles of the Economic Partnership Initiative (originally set in 2012) to see if they're still relevant.

"We found that we needed to update those... we recognized that we need to actively rebalance activities to smooth out year-round business and to not grow more at the peaks — so looking at how do we deal with that growth that has been coming our way to reduce the congestion of traffic and other challenges that we have in peak periods, and to spread that out," Furey said.

Other priorities are looking at challenges facing affordability, like pressures on housing, and ensuring that locals have the opportunity to participate and enjoy the benefits of Whistler's economic success, he added.

"So these new updated principles, what we're going to do with those is take the action plans that we developed three or four years ago, and run them through the sieve of our new findings, and see what we might need to change or realign in terms of our priorities," Furey said.

"Our goal is to ensure we have a vision and plan that still holds true, for who we are as a community, and we're asking tonight, and in the months to come and in the new year, how are we doing, what could we be doing differently to be successful?"

Feedback from the forum will be used to inform the RMOW's 2018 corporate planning, which begins with a council retreat in mid-November.

Pick up next week's Pique for more on the community forum.

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