Making spaces 

Planners entice homeowners to increase density

By Vivian Moreau

Not quite Trading Spaces or Extreme Makeover, Whistler has its own version of home renovation excitement as municipal planners search out homeowners interested in changing up their houses to add much-needed living space for Whistler’s home-starved worker population.

About 30 homeowners showed up at the Spruce Grove Field House last Thursday to hear municipal planners encourage property owners to build up, out, or in to provide extra room for employee residences.

Addressing the need, outlined in the area’s comprehensive sustainability plan Whistler 2020, to find almost 7,000 additional beds over the next 15 years, Resort Municipality of Whistler planners outlined options available to homeowners with properties ripe for bulking up. Through lot splits, duplexing or add-on suites, and with incentives for participating homeowners such as deferred building permit fees and work service charges and zoning regulation changes, the RMOW hopes more Whistler-area employees will end up actually living in the community in which they work.

“It was a very positive meeting,” said Mike Kirkegaard, RMOW’s chief planner. “There was strong interest from homeowners.”

Two other planners and local architect Brent Murdoch worked with small groups of large-lot homeowners with an eye to convincing three homeowners to sign on as test cases for home or lot conversions. Seven homeowners have since formally expressed interest in taking up the challenge.

Alpine Meadows resident Carson Hamm and his wife Shannon are considering the prospect of adding a suite to their 2,800 sq. ft. late 1980s chalet home and attended the meeting. The couple has a three-month-old daughter and Hamm, a mechanical engineer, says they want to stay in Whistler and help others to stay.

“We struggled as a young couple to find a decent home,” he said, “and part of our reasoning is to help out. We’re losing all kinds of people our age because they can’t afford to live here.”

But he says there are many challenges to the municipality’s proposition, cost being one.

“It doesn’t make sense to put out $160,000 to build a two-bedroom suite that will bring in $1,300 a month. There needs to be some property tax breaks or some other incentives on the municipality’s part to make this work.”

Kirkegaard says the task force, formed in 2003 to study infill options, has considered that same conundrum.

“They confirmed certain things, that we need to recognize the different circumstances of individuals and our need to maintain flexibility.”

Kirkegaard would like to see the allowable cost per square foot of $175 increased to take into consideration the realistic construction costs between $200 and $240/sq. ft. He says deferred building costs would also help homeowners.

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