Little interest in athletes’ village at public hearing 

Bylaws back before council on Tuesday

Though it’s the biggest municipal project to date, just half a dozen community members came to the public hearing for Whistler’s $130 million Olympic athletes’ village.

Only one spoke out at the hearing last Thursday afternoon, and expressed surprise that no one else in the community had anything to say about the project.

Community member Stuart Munro hypothesized that it was the time of day (4:30 p.m. on a Thursday) that kept people away, or perhaps the fact that there was only one week between the open house and the public hearing.

When asked about the lack of interest at the public hearing Mayor Ken Melamed said that could be looked at a number of ways.

“The way I like to look at it is we’ve done a good job,” he said.

There have been several public open houses on the village development, which will house over 2,400 athletes and officials for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and will then be transformed into a legacy neighbourhood with roughly 250 units of resident-restricted housing.

Melamed said there hasn’t been any real objection to the project expressed at those open houses, except about how the municipality was going to pay for the development.

“There was concern expressed at the (last) open house about risk but people understand all about risk and were perhaps comfortable with the buffers that we built into the financial pro forma, understanding that’s really the best we can do and I think the potential legacy out of the village is so important, and our commitment to the Games justifies the risk that we’re taking,” said the mayor. “Everybody’s going in with their eyes open.”

The financial risk was also on Munro’s mind at the hearing.

“I have confidence in the team that’s involved in this project,” he said.

“I do have some concerns though.”

Among those concerns was the provincial government’s promise of financial tools, which roughly equates to an additional $6 million in annual revenue for Whistler, based on the number of rooms rented in the resort. The municipality is putting $8 million of this new revenue into the athletes’ village.

Munro said a majority in the legislature must still approve the financial tools in the fall. What if that doesn’t happen, he asked.

“Do we have a plan B for that?”

The mayor said council has been given assurances from the province that it will get financial tools.

“It’s considered arrived,” he said.

Munro also expressed concern about the uptake for employee housing after the 2010 Games (see related story).

He suggested Whistler hire an independent assessor to gauge interest in the Whistler Housing Authority waitlist, which could tell the municipality how much uptake there will be in the village housing in light of the other developments in the valley in the coming years, most significantly the large project on the Rainbow lands. It could also gauge whether or not the waitlisters could afford the employee housing.

The mayor, while not committing to an independent review, said council was interested in the same feedback about the uptake and affordability on the waitlist.

“Certainly, there’s nobody here that wants to keep their head in the sand,” said Melamed. “We have to go in eyes fully wide open and there’s no point in building product that nobody’s going to buy.”

The athletes’ village bylaws are expected to come back before council at the Tuesday, July 4 meeting for third reading.

Work can begin on site after third reading. The Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, in charge of delivering the athletes’ village, must also have its environmental approvals in hand before getting on site.

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