Local businesses to lease employee housing for staff 

Local business owners are getting the first crack at leasing subsidized units from Whistler’s latest employee housing project, part of the Nita Lake Lodge development.

"We’d be all over it if something was available," said Bob Lorriman, owner of Gone Bakery, who was part of the 11-member team involved in designing the Alpha Creek employee housing site.

"It’s a good start," he added.

Gone Bakery currently rents a house in Tapley’s Farm for its employees but because the rents are so high, the business has to subsidize a portion of that rent.

At the Alpha Creek site business owners could lease the apartments from the developer at a subsidized rate and the business owners would then sub-let the units to their employees.

That subsidized rate would be in the neighbourhood of the Whistler Housing Authority benchmark of $1.25/square foot, with some leeway for incorporating an employee bus pass as part of the rent.

Lorriman said he would take at least one of the two-bedroom suites and one or two of the studio suites at the site if he had the chance.

This is a new approach to meeting the employee housing need in Whistler but a 2002 survey by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the WHA shows that it may be a popular way to rent units.

Hundreds of business owners were approached in that survey and 77 said they would be interested in leasing units in a seasonal housing building. Collectively those businesses were interested in securing almost 350 beds for their employees.

The Alpha Creek site will meet less than half that need with a total of 132 employee beds.

Located on the edge of the Millar Creek wetlands, the employee housing will be made up of two buildings on a two-acre site. There will be studio apartments at 240 square feet and two-bedroom apartments at 494 square feet. The apartments will be self-contained with small kitchens and bathrooms and most of the furniture will likely be built-in.

"We wanted to keep them small so that we could maximize the space and get more units, also recognizing that this is a slightly different employee in that they probably won’t be spending a lot of time in their units," said Marla Zucht, housing administrator for the WHA.

"The idea is that they’ll really socialize more outside of their units."

The buildings will have large common rooms, laundry facilities, and larger kitchens for entertaining at times like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There will also be a "dirty room" for ski and bike tuning.

Originally the design called for three buildings at the site but after a meeting with the Advisory Design Panel, the plans were scaled back to two buildings, to preserve more green space. One will be a three storey building and the other will be four. The number of units in the complex has not been compromised because of this change.

This Alpha Creek site is one of the two employee housing projects that are part of the Nita Lake Lodge development in Creekside.

This site is geared to seasonal employees whereas the second site, located closer to Nita Lake in a 23 acre forested site, will cater more to long term employees.

"We’ve never built employee housing that’s targeted for seasonal employees," said Zucht.

"We’ve always focused for long term employees."

Zucht said the current proposal still has to be reviewed again by the Advisory Design Panel.

Meanwhile the developers are hoping to break ground at the site in the fall.

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