Making spaces 

Planners working with homeowners to maintain resident population

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Not quite Trading Spaces or Extreme Makeover , Whistler has its own version of home renovation excitement as municipal planners work with homeowners interested in utilizing the equity in their houses to stem the "leakage" of residents.

About 30 homeowners showed up at the Spruce Grove Field House last Thursday to hear municipal planners explain housing initiatives that could provide more resident-restricted housing, but could also keep homeowners in Whistler when they decide it’s time to downsize.

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 that are under-developed or that could redistribute existing density to provide two residences. 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 to maintain the present standard of 75 per cent of Whistler employees living within the municipality.

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

Some long-time Whistler homeowners are starting to feel squeezed by the escalating value of their homes. They may not need as much space anymore but they can’t afford to sell and remain in Whistler. Particularly in the case of some older, smaller homes, property owners may be able to utilize the existing density on their property to create a second residence.

At the meeting, two planners and local architect Brent Murdoch worked with small groups of large-lot homeowners, three of who may 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."

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