Illegal space bylaws could impact new build on Benchlands 

Neighbours voice concern over potential size of home

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Some homeowners on Horstman Lane are concerned about a rezoning on the upscale street that will allow the owner of a vacant lot to build a home bigger than all the rest.

The application is the first of its kind since the recent bylaw changes, initiated by the Illegal Space Task Force, which exclude basement areas from the calculation of overall gross floor area. The bylaws were changed in an effort to address the proliferation of illegal space in the resort — media rooms, wine cellars, private gyms, and the like, constructed after final building inspection.

For new builds, however, the changes mean more potential for additional square footage.

In the case of the Horstman lot, where once the homeowner could build to 3,562 square feet, they could now build to 6,000 square feet, if the rezoning moves ahead. At the last meeting, council gave first and second readings to the bylaws. A public hearing will be held in the coming weeks.

The municipal communications department sent this explanation to clarify:

"The gross floor area limit would continue to be 3,562, however the Zoning Bylaw excludes basement spaces from the calculation of GFA (up to 125 per cent of the floor immediately above). So the absolute amount of area is dependent on how the rest of the house is designed. If the distribution were 1,562 sq ft on the top floor, and 2,000 sq ft. on the main floor, then the basement could be 125 per cent of 2,000, which works out to an additional 2,500 sq ft (not counted) above and beyond the allowable gross floor area of 3,562 sf."

That potential change doesn't sit well with some of the neighbours.

"We purchased our home a couple of years ago," wrote Maurice and Sophia White to municipal staff. "We were fully aware of the vacant lot on 4921 and have anticipated a home being built there in the range of 3,500 square feet. The rezoning application implies changes that are significantly beyond our expectations and comprehension."

The Horstman neighbourhood on the Blackcomb Benchlands is made up of a strata subdivision with split zoning. Some homes lie partially within the Blackcomb Land Use Contract area and some within the RS3 zone.

This application is to discharge the land use contract and rezone to RS3, like others on the street.

The difference is that since August, when council approved the illegal space bylaws for single-family homes and duplexes, basement areas are now excluded from the calculation of gross floor area.

"The initiative to create the task force was to address the very high percentage of properties in Whistler with existing non-conforming space," explained Councillor Duane Jackson who chaired the Illegal Space Task Force.

"That was the initiative, to allow all of these things to be resolved and have certainty."

The solution, however, means that new builds can take advantage of the bylaw changes with bigger homes.

Jackson said in the case of the Horstman house, the homeowners still must build within the building envelopes to the approved design guidelines, using the approved architects.

"It's probably not going to change what they would have built in the first place," said Jackson. "It's just going to mean that we can inspect it and tax it and put the building fees on it and everything else."

Jackson said the task force would produce a six-month report in the New Year reviewing the number of applications for permits. "It's slowly starting to sink in," he said. "It's slowly starting to get out there."

To legitimize illegal space homeowners can apply for a building permit at municipal hall. Information can be found at

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