mac plans 

By Loreth Beswetherick When Eileen Tomalty stood up at last month’s all-candidates’ meeting and asked if future councillors would back the development of a retirement complex in the community, it was perhaps the first time in over a year the general public had heard from Whistler’s Mature Action Committee. The concept of building a retirement centre for Whistler’s seniors is not a new one. It was the common goal that brought Whistler’s elder generation together to form MAC in 1994. But the group has not been publicly active for the last year. Tomalty said they had grown discouraged by municipal attitudes and a general lack of support. MAC members were beginning to feel they were fighting a losing battle. There is now, however, light on the horizon and a spring in their step. MAC members have the possibility of acquiring a seven-acre parcel of land near the village and they are back in action. The next hurdle is to get their hands on about 100 bed units. "Our whole purpose and mission was to get a place for people to retire in place," said Tomalty who acts as secretary for the group. "We want to stay in place. Some of us have been here for 10 years, some for more than 20, and we don’t want to have to move away." Tomalty said local seniors have contributed to building this community over the last 25 years. They have worked here and they volunteer here. "We have done a lot toward the community and, it seems to us, a lot of people are just leaving when they get past a certain age because they can’t live in their same big houses and clear snow all the time." She said there is also general trend toward enabling seniors to retire in their own communities instead of having to relocate to unfamiliar locales. Tomalty said when MAC started looking for land three years ago they had their eye on several parcels. "But as long as people felt there was a chance of them getting bed units and selling their land at a good price, they didn’t want it to go to the seniors. We are looking for land as cheap as we can get it. We have to pay market price but, if the land doesn’t have any bed units attached to it and we could bring units to the land with us, then that gives us a chance." Tomalty said a landowner has now approached MAC with around seven acres of suitable land close to the village. She didn’t feel at liberty to disclose the location but she said members have walked the site. "It’s nice and it’s convenient. One councillor said to me the municipality was looking at the same parcel for employee housing," said Tomalty. "I can see the practicality of having more younger people around but seniors are as important to a community as employees. A community needs some age diversity." Tomalty said now that MAC may have land, the problem is acquiring those bed units. "It’s the same old fight. We feel we are owed some units for us to retire to, especially when the municipality can give out 500 to Intrawest." Apart from the bed units, MAC is not looking for the municipality to subsidize their project. Members would all contribute financially to acquire and develop the land. "We would pool resources. We want to stay completely independent of any restrictions subsidies would put on us. That is our aim." Tomalty said one MAC member has experience in setting up retirement establishments. "There are definite ways of doing it. We will all have to put down some money the bank can hold. At this point we are right at the beginning of planning. This is the first time since we have been organized that we actually have a piece of land we can start thinking about." She said the complex could be a condominium, townhouse or semi detached development. "We would like to keep it on one floor because of access and ease as we get older. We may be able to ski down hill but maybe not climb stairs," she said. Ideally the complex would have a common room and workroom space for activities like entertaining and enjoying crafts like pottery. "We would also like to throw that open to the community. We don’t just want to keep it to ourselves." A frail care component could be contained in a second phase of the development. "Definitely as we grow older we would think in terms of nurse accessibility and health care in one or two units." Seniors would have to have lived in Whistler for five years before qualifying for a unit. To qualify, initial occupants would have had their names on the MAC list and have been paid-up members for the last five years. To date MAC has about 46 registered members, most of them couples. MAC is now working to revitalize the organization and brief members on developments. They will also be talking to the municipality. "We need to find out how they stand with us going ahead," said Tomalty. "The mayor has always been behind us but he said we have to do it ourselves. Now with the possibility of land we really want to get serious." Tim Wake of the Whistler Housing Authority said MAC and the authority have had several meetings over the last year. He said WHA is supportive of the initiative. "It certainly falls within our mandate in terms of the fact our guidelines allow for retirees." That means retiree bed units may exceed the development cap the same way employee units do, but granting the bed units would be council’s decision to make. "What it really comes down to is finding a suitable piece of land to do a development on. We are willing to share information with them and possibly partner with them if this is something that can be done in conjunction with a housing project," he said. "I think they would like to keep it separate though which would probably mean we wouldn’t get actively involved but we would be there in a supportive role." Wake said similar restrictions to the ones on employee housing would likely apply to the senior’s project. "Certainly, as a community we need to move in this direction," said Wake. MAC will be holding an AGM on Thursday Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. to discuss the project. Tomalty said anyone seriously interested in the development, or anyone with energy or expertise to put towards the venture, is welcome to attend. The meeting will be held at Tomalty’s home at 8624 Forest Ridge Drive.

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